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Mind's Eye 

Remembrance and Reflection: Remarks Delivered September 18, 2001 

By John P. Frazee 

Psycholinguistics: To Be Taboo or Not to Be 

By Timothy Jay 

Economy: Thoreau at the Turn of the Millennium 

By Thomas Weston Fels 

The Lure of Italy: Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Marble Faun 
By Tony Gengarelly 

Fiction by 

Vivian Dorse! 


By John Fragassi 

Poetry by 

Anna M. Warrock 
Ben Jacques 
Jack Handler 

Reviews by 

Meera Tamaya 

Robert Bence Fall 2001 

A Liberal Arts Journal 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 

FALL 2001 

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Editorial Board 

Tony Gengarelly 
Managing Editor 

Robert Bence 

Bob Bishoff 

Harold Brotznran 

Sumi Colligan 

Abbot Cutler 

Steve Green 

Bill Montgomery 

Leon Peters 

Meera Tamaya 

© 2001 The Mind's Eye 
ISSN 1098-0512 

Technical assistance from Arlene Bouras 

The Mind's Eye. a journal of scholarly and creative work, is published 
twice annually by Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. While em- 
phasizing articles of scholarly merit, The Mind's Eye focuses on a gen- 
eral communication of ideas of interest to a liberal arts college. We 
welcome expository essays, including reviews, as well as fiction, po- 
etry and art. Please refer to the inside back cover for a list of writer's 

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
Formerly North Adams State Callfgn 
375 Church Street 
North Adams, MA 01247-4100 

Visit our Web site: 

Mind's Eye 

Fall 2001 

Editor's File 4 

Remembrance and Reflection: Remarks Delivered 
September 18, 2001 

By John P. Frazee 5 

Psycholinguistics: To Be Taboo or Not to Be 

By Timothy Jay 7 

The Storyteller 

Fiction by Vivian Dorsel 23 

Economy: Thoreau at the Turn of the Millennium 

By Thomas Weston Iris 29 

The Lure of Italy: Nathaniel Hawthorne 

and The Marble Faun 

Y ■ ■ ^* 


By John Fragassi 51 

Poetry by 

Anna M. Warrock 52 

Ben Jacques 54 

Jack Handler 55 

Art and War in Classical Greece and Rome 

Book Review by Meera Tamaya 56 

Ideas and Politics Do Matter 

Book Review by Robert Bence 60 

Contributors 63 

Editor's File 

The world tor us has changed dramatically since September 1 1, 
and this issue of The Mind's Eye cannot help but reflect these 
altered circumstances. John Frazee, Vice President for Academic 
Affairs at MCLA, speaking to the college on September 18, remarked: 
•The world we knew and took for granted only seven days ago is no 
more. We know now that what lies ahead for us . . . will be profoundly 
affected by these events." In different ways. Dr. Frazee's comment — 
pan of a brief address that is published here— is echoed throughout 
this edition. Two untitled drawings by MCLA alumnus John Fragassi, 
done in the fall of 2000, take on a haunting significance as we contem- 
plate them a year later. Nathaniel Hawthorne's dialectic between in- 
nocence and consciousness not only is the subject of a review essay 
but becomes a meditation, as we seek to penetrate the fog in one of 
John Fragassi's drawings. Will clarity of vision and a revitalized moral 
responsibility compensate for the loss we have experienced? TomTels's 
personal reminiscence about the relevancy of Thoreau's Walden for 
the 2 1st century takes on added dimension with the awareness of how 
we have become, in certain ways, not only "tools of our tools" but 
also victims of our own technology. And Bob Bence's review of The 
Three Roosevelts draws attention to the need, once again, for transfor- 
mational leadership in America. 

This issue is privileged as well to highlight the professional ca- 
reer of Professor Tim Jay in his thought-provoking "Psychoiinguistics: 
To Be Taboo or Not to Be." We are also pleased to publish an engaging 
piece of short fiction, "The Storyteller," by Vivian Dorsel, and extraor- 
dinary poetry contributions, this time from Ben Jacques, Anna M. 
Warrock and Jack Handler. Meera Tamaya's astute review of John 
Onians' insights into the classical world of Greece and Rome provides 
an opportunity for literary as well as historical reflection. 

The diversity and richness of this issue points to the way in which 
a college journal such as The Mind's Eye can be an important means of 
communication on topics of interest to a liberal arts audience. We 
welcome your comments and contributions. 

Tony Gengarelly 
Managing Editor 

4 The Mind's Eye 

Remembrance and 

Remarks Delivered September 18, 2001 


On September IS, 2001, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
paused for an "Hour of Remembrance and Reflection. " The 
time was punctuated by hymns from the college choir and ques- 
tions from students about the implications of the tragedies of 
September II. Following are the opening remarks of Dr. John 
Frazee. Vice President for Academic Affairs. 

reek ago today, more than 4000 citizens of the United States 

and more than 60 other countries lost their lives in terrorist 

JL JL attacks on the Worid Trade Center and the Pentagon. An- 
other 60 people died in a plane crash in rural Pennsylvania, appar- 
ently having thwarted terrorists' plans to use the plane for yet another 
a ttack, Most of us have spent many hours during the past week watch- 
ing the horrifying news footage of the attacks, listening to stories of 
heroism and loss, and following the investigation into the attacks and 
the attackers, 

1 imagine that most of us have also experienced a bewildering 
array of feelings over the past week: shock, horror, disbelief, fear, pride, 
grief, and anger. In churches, synagogues, and mosques around the 
country— and, indeed, around the world— services have been held to 
honor and mourn those who lost their lives in the attacks and those 
heroes who died trying to save lives in their aftermath. The week has 

The Mind's Eye 5 

John P. Frazee 

also seen amazing outpourings of generosity on the part of the Ameri- 
can public and elsewhere as- those of us not directly affected hy this 
horror attempt to give whatever assistance we can — to do something to 
regain some measure of usefulness in a situation we are mostly power- 
less to affect. 

Years from now, we will all remember the past seven days. We will 
remember vividly where we were and what we were doing when we 
first learned of the attacks, and we will remember what we felt as the 
full horror of these events became dear. In time, we will come to recog- 
nize the events of the week as a watershed in our experience and in the 
experience of the world, 

A week after the unspeakable atrocities committed in New York, 
Washington, and Pennsylvania, we are beginning to understand that 
the world we knew and took for granted only seven days ago is no 
more. We know now that, what lies ahead for us individually and as a 
society will be profoundly affected by these events. 

Our sense of shock and our grieving for the loss of life will not end 
this week or next, but they will gradually subside, As they do, we begin 
to want to comprehend not just the facts of the attacks but their mean- 
ing. Why this? Why now? Why us? We have questions that cannot be 
answered by sound bytes or video clips. 

These deeper and broader questions have brought us together this 
afternoon. We are blessed to be part of an institution committed to the 
search for truth and to the essential importance of an educated citizenry. 
Ordinarily, our business proceeds at a measured pace, with no particular 
sense of urgency. The events of the past week, though, remind us of the 
fundamental — even urgent — importance of taking our commitments se- 
riously. The main contribution this academic community can make in 
this time of great national distress is to apply our talents and experience 
to understanding what has happened — to replace slogans, stereotypes, 
and simple answers with knowledge and a fuller appreciation of the com- 
plexity of this new reality and the forces that created it. 

We cannot hope to answer all our questions or resolve all our 
concerns today. But we can make a beginning. In the weeks and months 
ahead, my hope for all of us is that the conversations we begin today 
will deepen and broaden. In thus fulfilling our educational mission, 
this academic community can best prepare us to understand, and by 
understanding resist, the forces now unleashed upon the earth. 

6 Tkt Mini's Eye 

Psy cholinguis tics : 

To Be Taboo or Not to Be 


tie of the meanings of "the mind's eye" in psycholinguistics is 

the point of view taken by a reader or the narrator of a story. 

For example, if you ask a person to describe the interior of 
his or her home, he or she will produce a visual-spatial guided tour of 
the layout from a particular location or orientation in the house. From 
the verbal description of the house, the layout becomes embodied 
knowledge through the listener's mind's eye., The listener realizes or 
perceptually knows what is up, down, left, right, etc., in the house. 
My purpose here is to give you a mind's-eye view of the field of 
psycholinguistics from my location at MCLA. I will be commenting on 
my personal experience as well as placing my work in a larger con- 
text. By the end of my narrative, you should know a little bit about 
my discipline and where I fit in it. Here is a clue — my position is out- 
side the main room in many important ways. It is as if I am in an 
antechamber on the threshold of the discipline, but not in the center 
of the room — yet. 

The Mind's Eye 7 

Timothy Jay 

The Field of Psycholinguistics 

Psycholinguistics is a subfield of cognitive psychology, the study of 
the higher mental processes, reasoning, problem solving, creativity, 
intelligence and memory. It emerged in the early 1960s as the scien- 
tific study of language processes — huw we comprehend, produce and 
learn written, spoken or signed language. Its existence was the result 
of a paradigmatic shift or scientific revolution in psycbofogy that 
moved a discipline deeply entrenched in behaviorism toward ratio- 
nalism and a new theory of the mind. The new paradigm has changed 
the metaphor of psychology from the behavior of a laboratory rat to 
the information processing of a digital computer. Cognitive psychol- 
ogy and psycholinguistics are products of what has been called "the 
cognitive revolution." The birth of psycholinguistics can be traced in 
part to the debate over the nature of language between MIT linguist 
Noam Chomsky and Harvard behaviorist-psychologist B. F. Skinner. 
This was a classic nature-versus-nurture dispute; that is, whether the 
facility for language was innate or learned. Chomsky won the debate, 
turning the field of psychology 180 degrees away from behaviorism. 
The cognitive revolution skewed questions about language to fit 
Chomsky's paradigm regarding a theory of innate syntax or grammar 
he called the linguistic acquisition device (LAD). 

In the 1 960s, psycholinguistic research was dominated by linguis- 
tics-oriented questions about the structure of language; but since then, 
research has shifted back to its psychological functions, examining how 
people use and understand language. Computational linguistics and 
computer models of language processing heavily influence 
psycholinguistics. This is especially true today for adherents of 
connectionism or parallel distributed processing (PDF) {see Rumelhart 
and McClelland) and more recently in the form of optimality theory 
(Prince and Smolensky). The reliance on computer models of psycho- 
logical processes and a shift away from the use of laboratory animals 
had the unfortunate effect of shutting the door on studies of emotions 
and the process of socialization. Computers do not have emotions, nor 
do they live in communities. The bloodless, emotionless decontextualized 
computer models, of course, do not understand or produce the emo- 
tional language that humans learn at the age of two. This emotional 
void is not viewed as a problem by the computer modelers. 

8 The Mind's Eye 

Timothy Jay 

The fieid of psycholinguistics has expanded exponentially in 40 
years. Since the late 1970s, this definition of the discipline has broad- 
ened to include several new perspectives, such as pragmatics, which is 
the study of the social use of language. Other influences are 
evidenced by the proliferation of scientific journals dedicated to 
answering questions about language processes. Currently, there is con- 
siderable interest in research on cross-cultural linguistic comparisons, 
brain-language imaging, gestural or sign-language acquisition, language 
disorders and bilingualism. These new perspectives are constantly 
revealing information about the fundamental aspects of language and 
language learning. Once the melding of psychology and linguistics, 
psycholinguistics is currently part of the multidisciplinary approach 
referred to as cognitive science, which includes linguistics, perception, 
artificial intelligence, anthropology, psychology and neuroscience. We 
can see the scope of psychofinguistics by outlining how some 
psycholinguists do their work. 

How Do Psycholinguists Work? 

Let's start with some early neuroscience research. Psychologists 
and physicians have always been interested in how the brain pro- 
cesses language. Brain and language anatomy studies date back four 
centuries. One of the revolutionary events in neuroscience was cred- 
ited to Paul Broca, who discovered in the 1860s that the facility for 
articulate language was located in the perisylvian area of the left fron- 
tal lobe of the cerebral cortex. It was there that his patient M. Leborgne 
had developed a tumor and lost his ability to produce articulate speech. 
Leborgne could understand speech and he could swear (Sucre nom de 
Dieu!) when angered; 1 will return to this point later. These early brain 
studies were crude, relying on autopsies of clinical patients. The cur- 
rent state of neurolinguistics is amazing. New technology has opened 
the door to a whole world of new questions about brain and language. 
The advent and advancement of brain imaging, especially fMRl and 
PET technology, has invigorated interest in neurological correlates of 
language processing, language disorder and links between emotion 
and language. A good example of brain imaging during cognition is 
the award-winning and eft-cited work of Michael Posner and Marcus 
Raichle, Images of Mind. In it one can see PET scans of different areas of 
the cortex working on unique aspects of language processing; for 

The Mind's Bye 9 

Timothy Jay 

example, visual processing during reading in the occipital lobes and 
auditory processing during listening in the temporal lobe. 

Like scholars working in cognitive science, psycholinguists tend 
to find a niche in a research setting, dig in and grind out the research. It is 
the rare scholar such as Noam Chomsky who can write so broadly and 
proMcally about politics, media, government and language. Steven Pinker 
is another linguist who has the rare ability to publish frequently in 
scholarly journals and write best-sellers such as The Language Insiina 
and How the Mind Works. Only a few psycholinguists, such as Roger 
Brown, George Miller, Elizabeth Bates and Brian MacWhinney. pub- 
lish in multiple areas of the discipline. One can get a sense of how 
specialized the field has become by looking at the table of contents of 
a textbook for psychobngulstics. The chapters include subject matter 
specific to research areas such as speech perception, speech produc- 
tion, language acquisition, language and thought, bilingualism, 
nonliteral language, discourse processes, reading processes, seman- 
tics, neurolinguistics, forensic linguistics and therapeutic dialogue. 

Looking through the citation list for a textbook, one notices that a 
particular scholar's work is generally mentioned in only one chapter 
on a specific topic in that chapter. This is the scholar's niche. The idea 
of a specialization or niche is critical, because it reveals how scholars 
work and what they do to build an academic reputation. One also can 
discover specialty areas in any discipline by using its search engine to 
find topics or authors. The PsycINFO database accessible through MCLA 
IntraGate can uncover the work of many psycholinguists whose re- 
search appears in a textbook. Here are the results of some recent 
searches in psycholinguistics. David Balota has published 98 papers 
on lexical access (finding word meaning in the mental dictionary). In 
the area of child language learning, there is plenty of research by 
Catherine Snow, who has 67 publications, and Elizabeth Bates, who 
has 98. In neurolinguistics, one finds the work of Marta Kutas, who 
has 87 studies of evoked brain potentials and language comprehen- 
sion. I can also check up on the work of some of my associates at the 
University of California at Los Angeles. I worked with Eran Zaidel, 
who has written 66 papers on the lateralization of language functions; 
Don MacKay, author of 59 papers on language comprehension and 
aging; and Nancy Henley, who pioneered UCLA women's studies in 
the late 1960s and wrote 27 articles about language and gender issues. 

10 The Mind's Eye 

Timothy Jay 

Finally, on the topic of reading processes, one cannot ignore one of 
the most prolific writers and researchers in the country, Keith Rayner 
at the University oMVSassachtiseus-Atnherst, with 155 publications that 
focus on eye movements during reading. Let's move on to look at how 
researchers approach current questions in the discipline. 

Some Contemporary Issues in Psycholinguistics 

Here is a brief sample of the kinds of problems psycholinguists are 
tackling right now. One of the interesting areas of research in child 
language acquisition focuses on how the child learns complex linguis- 
tic structures during the preschool period. This research draws on 
knowledge of both developmental psychology and morphosyntactic 
structure. Children all over the world acquire language in a very pre- 
dictable manner. They begin learning the syntactically simple aspects 
of native speech first. In most cases, nouns and verbs are acquired 
early. Most of the language spurt between the ages of two and three 
consists of learning object labels. Much later in development, children 
learn morphological rules for past-tense inflections. 

One question of interest is, Why do three-year-olds learning En- 
glish say things like "We goed to the store," regularizing an irregular 
verb? This question evokes one of the central controversies in lan- 
guage-acquisition research: Are children learning language by com- 
puting language "rules" or by learning the statistical regularities in 
language data they hear? For example, does the child learn a rule that 
to place regular verbs in the past tense one adds -ed; or does the child 
observe that most of the time, when the parents are talking about 
something in the past, the action words end with -ed? Irregular verbs 
are the exceptions, if one believes in rules. Whether by rules or regu- 
larities, irregular verbs have to be learned by rote. Fortunately, many 
irregular verbs are frequently used in English and can be easily learned 
after the regularities have been computed. The rules-versus-regulari- 
ties debate has not been resolved (Pinker ingredients). 

By the way, inflections, which 1 referred to in the preceding para- 
graphs, are word endings such as those for past tense (play-ed) or 
possession (Tom-'s) . The person on the street uses inflection to de- 
scribe dialect or intonation. Inflections to language researchers do not 
describe how language is pronounced. Pronunciation concerns prosody, 
dialect, emphasis and intonation. Inflections are word endings that 

The Mind's Eye U 

Timothy Jay 

change the meaning of a word in some way. English is a highly in- 
flected or morphologically complex language. Inflections are more 
problematic for children learning English than for children learning 
less inflected languages, such as Hebrew or Russian. 

One of the interesting problems in language comprehension re- 
search focuses on how we parse or syntactically analyze the meaning 
of a garden-path sentence (GPS). An example of a GPS is, "The horse 
raced past the barn fell"; or one of my favorites, "Fat people eat accu- 
mulates." Things seem to be going quite well in the comprehension 
process of a GPS until wc get to the end of the sentences and find 
those troublesome verbs, We have been led down the linguistic gar- 
den path, thinking the first verb we parsed was the main verb of the 
sentence. When we get to the last verb, we have to abandon the origi- 
nal parsing of the sentence and retrace until it makes sense. One way 
to figure out what is going on in GPS processing is to monitor readers' 
eye fixations as they read a printed sentence. Usually, people get stuck 
in a GPS and end up fixating significantly longer at the point where 
parsing breaks down relative to fixations in non-GPSs. Another way 
to map confusion during the comprehension process is to use brain 
imaging or to monitor brain-wave activity. Neuroscientists monitor 
brain energy levels with MRI and PET scans, or they monitor brain- 
wave activity through electrodes on the scalp (evoked potentials) dur- 
ing the reading of normal and anomalous sentences. The brain- wave 
activity is different for semantic anomalies (e.g., "Bobcats hunt mice 
squirrels rabbits laughs and many other .«,«•) than it is for syntactic 
anomalies (e.g., "Turtles spit out things they does not like to eat"). 
These eye-tracking and brain-monitoring techniques give an on-iine 
account of what is happening during the comprehension process. 

One of the traditional problems in speech production research is 
how to account for the location and timing of speech errors Or sfips of 
the tongue. The speech production process unfolds through a series of 

f. Find an idea to be expressed. 

2. Generate a sentence frame. 

3. Create an intonation contour for the sentence frame. 

4. Select the appropriate words and inflections. 

5. Apply the phonological codes to the words. 

6. Generate a motor plan and say the sentence. 

12 The Mind's Eye 

Timothy Jay 

On the path to an ideal speech plan, speakers frequently make mistakes 
somewhere in the speech production process. The kind of slip made 
tells us where it happened. A slip such as "t have a home in my phone" 
occurs earlier in the plan (stage 4) than a slip such as "Don't forget to 
buy some frake bluid" (stage 5). In the first slip, the appropriate words 
have exchanged places. In the second slip, the words are in the right 
places but their phonemes (speech sounds) are exchanged. Lexical items 
have to be selected before their phonological codes can be applied. 

Recent speech production research has shown that if you show 
people a photograph and ask them to describe what is in the scene 
(e.g., a dog chasing a mailman), the pattern of their eye fixations (e.g., 
mailman -> dog) will indicate the urdering of the nouns in the sen- 
tence they are about to speak (e.g., "The mailman is chased by the 
dog"). This is a good example of how eye movement reveals the con- 
tent of thought; that is, the plan about to be produced. Unfortunately, 
psycholinguists have not explained very well the more intriguing types 
of slips called Freudian slips. Freudian slips are the kind of errors that 
are personally revealing and/or sexually provocative. Some of my 
favorites are the man who called his girlfriend his ex-wife's name, the 
mother who refers to one child but uses another sibling's name or the 
woman who tells her partner, "You don't give me enough money — 
er — I mean, love." What is in their minds' eyes? Are the name slips 
insulting or flattering? How is it that love is related to money? 

One final example of research is from the topic of conversational 
pragmatics. One rule of conversation that most of us try to obey is to 
be "polite," which is a complex concept that governs turn-taking, 
changes in the topic of discussion, opening and dosing routines, not 
being too wordy and not being too precise. A good example of main- 
taining politeness is the way we go about asking someone for help 
without doing so in direct terms. We use a device called an indirect 
request; for exampfe, asking, "Do you have a watch?" or "Don't you 
think it's a bit stuffy in here?" rather than asserting direcrty what we 
want, such as, "Tell me what time it is" or "Open that window." 
Another interesting pragmatic maneuver is to use sarcastic irony to 
mute our true feebngs about some situation. For example, when my 
four-year-old daughter dropped the milk jug onto the floor, 1 said to 
her, "That's real nice." But four-year-olds do not understand sarcasm 
and she just gave me one of those puzzled four- year-old looks. Children 

The Mind's Eye 13 

Timothy Jay 

do not get the nonliieral meaning of figurative speech until the age of 
six or seven. Sarcasm comes in handy in the Berkshires for alleviating 
stress and making funny comments about our environment — "I just 
can't wait to move into the Berkshire Towers" or "Don't you just love 
these Berkshire winters?" Studies of pragmatics are close to the sub- 
ject matter that really intrigues me about language — its social and 
emotional functions. 

Achieving recognition in psycholinguistics or other disciplines 
would seem to present a paradox: being specialized enough to gener- 
ate important research on a particular topic while being well read 
enough in the general field to know what the scope of the field is and 
where it is headed. The solution might hinge on the motivation to 
keep working, writing and reading; these may be the efforts that sepa- 
rate the talented from the mediocre in a discipline. Writing 60, 90 or 
150 articles is a lot of work for a scholar, but large universities provide 
support, for productivity. It is necessary to find a niche and be produc- 
tive in a major university. At a small college, one is more likely to be 
expected to be a Jack- or Jill -of -a 11- trades, and success depends on a 
lot of individual initiative and spare time. 1 have tried to achieve suc- 
cess in psycholinguistics through research on cursing. Achieving aca- 
demic success appears to require the ability to tolerate a high degree 
of failure and rejection while constantly working. Another important 
trait is finding the right questions to ask in a discipline. It is one thing 
to find answers to important questions but quite another to ask an 
important question. There are plenty of unanswered questions about 
cursing. I have tried to be particularly pragmatic and judicious about my 
research, which is why I keep asking myself. Of all the things we don't 
know about cursing, what will be most important in the long run? 

My Perspective: Speech Is Always Social and Emotional 

By the time I was in high school, I was on my way to becoming a 
psychologist. I was reading Freud, Lenny Bruce and J. D. Salinger. 
When I started undergraduate studies at Miami University, the field of 
psycholinguistics was just beginning to take off. The course that marked 
my future was Language and Thought. That was where I first read 
about linguistic relativity, word magic and semantic theory. I comple- 
mented my studies in psychology with several courses in linguistics 
taught by Hungarian scholar Andrew Kerek. After graduating from 

14 The Mind's Eye 

Timvthy Jay 

Miami University, I completed graduate training at Kent State Univer- 
sity under the guidance of Joseph Danks, a product of the Institute for 
Advanced Studies at Princeton who was mentored by the eminent 
psychologist Sam Glucksberg. I was the first student to take compre- 
hensive exams in psycholinguistics at KSU. Professor Danks en- 
couraged me to complete my master's and doctoral-level work by 
conducting traditional psycholinguistic research with taboo words 
as stimuli. 

I do not think I could have achieved what i have here at MCLA at 
a mainstream university. In graduate school, t could not see that one 
does not do cursing research in the mainstream. Grants and funding 
go elsewhere. While my graduate research was personally intellectu- 
ally satisfying, I think the decision to work with taboo words forever 
marked me as an outsider, a psycholinguistic black sheep. No one else 
does what 1 do. I have to question whether computer-inspired 
psycholinguistics can incorporate ray work. Taboo speech does not fit 
very well with the body of research as I described it above. At the 
same time, my research cannot be ignored, because it taps an essential 
emotional aspect of human communication. 

My misdirection in research was not sufficient to keep me from 
finding a teaching job after graduate school as a cognitive psycholo- 
gist/psycholinguist. Whether I was to continue doing research with 
taboo language in my early days was questionable, fn my first semes- 
ter here, my chairman would not sponsor my contribution to the East- 
ern Psychological Association conference in Boston. I had to ask a 
colleague from KSU to sponsor me. Secretaries refused to type my 

It became clear to me that the topic of taboo words was going to 
be problematic for academics, Most of us do not speak this language 
on the job. But I could not stop doing research. I was interested in 
unearthing the deep emotional and social underpinnings of language 
that few had explored since the demise of behaviorism. In this choice, 
I had made an exit from the main room of psycholinguistics and I did 
not realize it. This estrangement was realized and abetted on a physi- 
cal level. By moving from a mainstream research-oriented university 
to a small teaching college, which is what MCLA was when I arrived, 
I could continue my taboo research in the antechamber, unaware that 
I was no longer in the main room. 

The Mind's Eye 15 

Timothy Jay 

I will never confess to studying taboo words because they are tit- 
illating — far from it. I study emotional language because I have a fear of 
it. Mine is not a fear of words; it is an ignorance of deep emotional 
communication; thai is, how to express myself in a deeply emotional 
way. The language of science is easy for me; it is objective, distant, con- 
crete and emotionally cool. What f have trouble speaking and writing 
is the language of compassion, caring, devotion, contempt, anger, hate 
and disdain for others. One of the hardest questions for me to answer 
is "How do you feel?" 

Maintaining a cool distance from people was how my parents raised 
me — to be quiet, independent, self-reliant, and aloof. It was good train- 
ing for science but not for understanding our inner emotional lives. I 
want to subdue taboo words by knowing them scientifically. Emo- 
tional language is still a foreign dialect to me. I continue to study how 
we connect emotional states to verbal symbols. I am getting better at 
connecting words to emotions, but part of my problem is being a 
middle-aged male. We are not supposed to be emotional, except for 
expressing anger. When we are emotional, we use conventionalized 
emotional terms such as taboo words. They are emotional shorthand, 
carrying the burden of being both personally meaningful and univer- 
sal. They seem too easily spoken to.get a handle on the emotions that 
give rise to them. This is a puzzle 1 am trying to solve with research. 

If not from Lenny Bruce, my interest in the emotional side of speech 
dates back to reading about Broca's patient Leborgne. While the entire 
field of psycholinguistics had focused on what Leborgne had lost, what 
seemed more interesting to me was what remained; that is, Leborgne's 
abiiity to produce emotional speech amidst severe left-hemisphere brain 
damage. Here is where my original interests began to diverge from the 
field. How could we ignore this interesting symptom of brain damage? 
Currently, thanks to trends in brain imaging and neuroscience, emo- 
tional speech is becoming recognized as an important issue. Emotional 
speech is now identified with the right hemisphere's special role in 
emotional awareness with ties to subcortical areas in the limbic sys- 
tem, especially the amygdala, which plays a significant role in emo- 
tional perception and expression. What once was ignored is now viewed 
as an essential aspect of human communication. Psycholinguists, psy- 
chologists and psychiatrists now are working to fill the "emotion gap" 
created by ignoring the phenomenon over the past century of research. 

16 The Mind's Eye 

Timothy Jay 

The model underlying my recent book Why We Curse was just a bit 
ahead of the times, waking for others to catch up. 

My discipline has lost sight of the personal and cultural nature of 
speech. I am committed to the idea that language is a psychological, 
biological and cultural phenomenon. The neuro-psycho-social theory 
o( speech (NFS) in Why We Curse was developed around the idea that 
language is always and all at once a multifaceted phenomenon learned 
through social interaction with native speakers. The main reason we 
learn language is to do things to other people with it. One of the ways 
to demonstrate the NPS nature of language is by looking at cross-cul- 
tural studies of coprolalia; that is, involuntary obscene speech symp- 
tomatic of many people who have Tourette's syndrome (TS). While 
the clinical picture in TS is uniform, the kinds of words and phrases 
uttered during a coprolalic episode depend on the culture and person- 
ality of the patient. What a young Muslim girl in Kuwait with TS will 
do is very different from what we observe her counterparts doing in 
Japan, Denmark or the UK. Her speech may reveal the role of religion 
in her culture, while the outburst in Japanese is more likely to focus 
on ancestral allusions. These culturally dependent copruphenomena 
reveal the nexus of the NPS factors. 

After 25 years of work, I have grown tired of waiting in the wings. 
Now I am trying to enter the main room of psycholinguistics by writ- 
ing a textbook on the psychology of language. 1 wrote the first draft in 
2000, roughly 800 pages, including a 50-page bibliography, and sent it 
to my publisher to be reviewed. Most of the contents of the first draft 
came from years of research and teaching about the psychology of 
language. 1 was not ready for what was about to happen to my book. 
Some reviewers liked my view of the fiterature; but most did not think 
it was comprehensive enough or current enough for adoption. After 
25 years of teaching psycholinguistics, the truth came crashing down 
on me. My primary focus on the emotional aspects of language had 
left me out of touch with the mainstream and out of date. I felt like an 
intellectual mongrel. It has taken me another year of intense reading 
and writing to make up for my inadequacies. My newfound diligence 
allowed me to double the size of the book and its citations. The book is 
now in production. 

Looking back, I do not think I have ever been more up to date 
in the literature of psycholinguistics than when I studied for my 

The Mind's Eye 17 

Timothy Jay 

comprehensive exams in graduate school. I memorized the studies in 
my mentors' text. Experimental Psycholinguistics (Glucksberg and Danks}, 
enough to easily pass my comps. After graduate school, I just kept 
teaching here at MCLA and lost sight of the fact that 1 was out of the 
mainstream intellectually. The nearest psycholinguist I could talk to in 
person was an hour away. My textbook writing experience helped 
reinforce the feeling of detachment 1 share with a number of my col- 
leagues. We sense we are "way out" here in the Berkshires, cut off 
from the intellectual bloodline. Sometimes we feel like our campus is 
a small satellite orbiting the academic mother planet. Our detachment 
makes necessary participation in conferences, academic sabbatical 
leaves and communication with colleagues through the Internet. These 
habits are essential to buffer the sense of isolation. But I must admit 
that being out of the mainstream probabiy helped me develop my 
unusual field of expertise in taboo speech. This year, I finally realized 
that my work has been a blessing and not a curse. 

In the scope of things, the function of taboo words has direct 
application to many mainstream issues in psycholinguistics. For 
example, my graduate work examined lexical semantics — the shades 
of meaning that a word can take on, as well as how word meaning 
shifts from context to context. Consider the shades of meaning of a 
word like ass. My research on name-calling reveals the deep social 
connections we have to speech and how we use speech to criticize, 
discriminate, harass, seduce, humor and cajole our friends and en- 
emies. Through the study of children's cursing, I show how emotional 
language changes with intellectual development and social awareness. 
It has been hard for some of my readers to accept the fact that all 
children know how to curse; they are not angels, they are animals. 
Our research in mental-health settings and nursing homes exposed 
the role of emotional speech in mental disorders. We demonstrated 
what happens during the process of aging and senile decline; that is, 
the return to some very basic emotions and behaviors. 

One of the most interesting aspects of my research is how fre- 
quently cursing causes problems in popular culture. This is not rocket 
science. We all have some sense of what is happening in our culture. 
We all live in popular culture and know the problems. Taboo lan- 
guage is problematic for television, radio, music lyrics, sports, com- 
ics, motion pictures, T-shirts, bumper stickers, tattoos, license plates 

18 The Mind's Eye 

Timothy Jay 

and advertisements. There is no end to these issues. Popular culture 
obsolesces quickly and these issues are rarely intellectually satisfying. 
Focusing on popular issues is no substitute for empirical research. 

My most powerful and satisfying work has been in the legal appli- 
cations of taboo-word research to issues such as First Amendment 
rights, school language policies, sexual harassment, workplace speech 
and broadcast standards. Helping determine the nature of emotional 
speech and its limitations in North America is a tremendous challenge, 
one that most social scientists never experience. There is nothing quite 
like being an expert witness. Sitting in federal court in Omaha a few 
years ago, arguing on behalf of an African- American woman who swore 
at a police officer, was a mind-altering experience. Waiting there with 
the woman's family, 1 wondered. Where would /have to go in America 
to be arrested for saying one word? That case opened up a new line of 
"fighting words" research for me. What does the law mean by "fight- 
ing words"? This is a notion currently inscribed in states' disorderly 
conduct statutes that goes back to the 1940s and that allows the police 
to arrest just about anyone with an offensive mouth. Each time I write 
up a deposition, [ see the power of my data on cultural and legal lev- 
els. This legal extension of my research is always rewarding and I have 
been asked many times to give my opinion regarding freedom of speech. 
This work catches people's attention, ft has been hailed by Paul Harvey 
and Anna Quindlen and reviled by Miss Manners and James O'Connor. 
It used to teel good to be in the press, but now 1 don't know. 

Since I have been interviewed more than 400 times since 1986, 
let me comment about that. Television is fast, superficial and cheap. 
Almost all of it defies and insults our academic training. You probably 
already know this. Except for one talk show in Chicago, which gave 
me $40 for two days' work, I have received no compensation for my 
appearances. 1 am becoming increasingly resistant to appearing on tele- 
vision for several reasons. It is difficult to control the content of my 
message. I generally am asked to respond to some event in popular 
culture. Big deal. 1 never have enough time to get the point across. 
Every conversation is censored. I cannot talk about what I study; I can 
only talk around it. This plays into the networks' power to censor and 
control the meaning of the message. However, emotional speech by 
nature resists censorship. The networks will not air real emotional 
outbursts, because they must maintain the illusion of control— that 

The Mind's Eye 19 

Timothy Jay 

TV is safe. Controversial topics such as sex education, racism, corpo- 
rate power and obscenity have no place here, masking what really 
happens in the real world. 

While the networks usually tempt me by saying they will pro- 
mote my books, television and radio appearances do not make any 
difference in my book sales, in effect, they undermine my credibility 
as a scientist and they are wholly unprofitable economically and intel- 
lectually. As a professor, one lias 50 minutes to construct, support and 
criticize an argument; this is impossible on network television. A 50- 
minute taped interview will be edited to three sound bites— the ones 
the network likes, rather than the author's main points. 1 have learned 
to say what I want to say in a live interview regardless of the question 
1 am asked; that way, I control the message. 

Newspaper interviews with The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour- 
nal, The Washington Post and the like are much more satisfying than 
those on television. Newspapers reach a different audience. But many 
of my complaints just voiced about television still apply to the print 
medium. In the newspaper business, at least one has time for fact 
checking and editing before the interview goes to print. We readers 
can put our hands on the final product, too. The words do not effer- 
vesce into thin air like they do on television and radio. In the end, the 
media for entertainment value and profit usurp most academics" 
intellectual labor. We might be better off to publish our opinions in 
the scholarly press and avoid the exploitation by the news conglomer- 
ates, f suggest posting controversial messages on the Internet if you 
want to avoid censorship. 

Where are we now? I constantly struggle with the demands of 
teaching and doing research, ft is easy to fall behind the research curve 
at a state college. To work as a productive scholar and to generate 
research in psycholinguistics, one has to be well read in several disci- 
plines. One cannot publish at a scholarly level in psycholinguistics as a 
genera list, because the field is too specialized. Looking to the future in 
experimental psychology, I think one could accurately characterize 
the discipline as one heavily influenced by progress in cognitive neu- 
roscience. What does this mean for our students? It does not mean 
educating psychology students as generalists. They should be well read 
in research on brain, behavior and technology. MCLA needs to be 
graduating psychology majors fully prepared to enter the workplace, 

20 The Mind's Eye 

Timothy Jay 

graduate school, law school or medical school with a deep understand- 
ing of the scientific method and a knowledge of how brain, biology, 
behavior, culture and cognition interact. For a professor to reach a 
high level of understanding so as to impart that knowledge to stu- 
dents, one has to do more than read about research. Professors and 
students have to do some research, In this way, psychology has always 
been similar to other laboratory sciences. 

Here is how we work in the Psychology Department. I have been 
preparing my research assistants Krista King and Tim Duncan for gradu- 
ate school in psychology. As I write this, we are analyzing cursing 
narratives of college students; that is, their recollections of how they 
were treated by their parents for cursing. We collected data in the 
spring and have just finished analyzing these fascinating stories over 
the summer. Yes, mothers do wash their children's mouths out with 
soap. Our research will be important to those who read the literature 
on parenting, language acquisition, discourse processes, gender differ- 
ences and autobiographical memory. This project has what we cail 
"legs"; that is, it has great potential to generate more empirical ques- 
tions. The research team is proud of its long hours of work in Murdock 
Hall. We will submit our research for publication and for conference 
presentation. Next year, Tim and Krista will be in graduate school 
because of their talents and hard work. 

What I like most about psychological research is finding answers 
to questions. This is what sustains my interest in writing about curs- 
ing, finding and reporting something new. Through my hard-working 
research assistants and colleagues, I realize what a scholar should be 
doing at MCLA — participating in a significant intellectual and emo- 
tional life. 

The MindS Eye 21 

Timothy Jay 

Works Cited 

Chomsky, Noam. Language and Mind. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968. 

Glucksberg, Sam, and Joseph H. Danks. Experimental Psycholinguistics: 
An Introduction. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1975. 

Jay, Timothy. Why We Curse: A Neuro-psycho-socia! Theory of Speech. 
Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2000. 

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. New York: Morrow, 1 994. 

. How the Mind Works. New York: Norton, 1997. 

. Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. New York: Basic 

Books, 1999, 

Posner, Michael L, and Marcus E. Raichle. Images of Mind. New York: 
Scientific American Library, 1994. 

Prince, A., and P. Smolensky. "Optirhality: From Neural Networks to 
Universal Grammar." Science 275.5306 (1997); 1604-10. 

Rumelhart, David, E., and James L. McClelland. Parallel Distributed 
Processing: Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition . Cambridge, 
MA: MIT Press, 1986. 

22 The Mind's Eye 


The Storyteller 


Tell me a story," she said. 

"What kind of a story?" he asked, frowning at the crack across 
the ceiling. "We've been in this room before." 

"What? How do you know? There must be a hundred rooms in 
this hotel." 

"And we've probably been here twenty-five, thirty times. I recog- 
nize the ceiling," he added. "Anyway, what kind of a story do you 
want this time?" 

■ "Not like the last one. That scared me— you know, the one about 
the rabid dog— f couldn't sleep for three nights afterward. And 1 know 
there was an animal lurking in the clump of trees at the bend in the 
driveway. 1 saw a shadow there — from my bedroom window." 

"You didn't like the one before that, either— the one about the 
two orphan girls. If the stories bother you so much, why do you keep 
asking for them?" 

"It isn't that I don't like them. ... Oh, I see what you mean— the 
crack in the ceiling, it's shaped like a sword, the way it comes to a 
point there. I remember that from before, too. 1 remember thinking it 
was an omen. It was the first or second time we came here, and I was 
afraid someone who knows my husband would recognize us." 

"What do you mean, it isn't that you don't like them? If they scare 
you so much that you can't sleep. ..." 

The Mind's Eye 23 

Vivian Dorset 

"It's just that sometimes I think you want to frighten me— you 
know— with the stories. After that one— two' weeks ago— those two 
little girls came to the door, selling chocolate bars for their school, and 
they were dressed exactly like the two girls in the story, with navy- 
blue pleated skirts and white blouses. ..." 

"That's the uniform!" he said, laughing. "Saint Catherine's School, 
over on the East Side, Two little Catholic schoolgirls selling candy, 
and you act as if they're ogres. You really must pull yourself together, 
you know." 

"And last week— the dog— I saw it, first as 1 passed the alley next 
to the hotel, then again in the park two days later." She clutched the 
sheet, making fists with both hands. 

"But you keep asking me to tell them, every week. I must have 
told you twenty— at least— by now." He smiled. "Scheherazade and 
the Sultan— with the genders reversed. If I stop amusing you, will you 
have me put to death?" 

She sat up, abruptly. "What a terrible idea!" she exclaimed, hold- 
ing the sheet tu her naked chest with one hand. "What made you say 
a thing like that?" 

He shrugged. "Isn't that what I'm here for— your amusement?" 

"Oh, let's not start that again! You know there's nothing I can do 
about the situation." She lay back down, then immediately sat back 
up. "And you must promise me not to do anything— no unnecessary 
risks. We must be careful." 

"Just coming to the same place every week is an unnecessary risk," 
he said- "It's a mistake to get into a routine; that's how people are 
discovered— by following the same pattern all the time. Next time, 
come to my place; you've never been there." 

"No, that's impossible! What if one of your neighbors saw me, or 
noticed my car? It's not the same as a casual passerby, someone who 
doesn't know either of us." She settled back into the pillow again. 
"Tell me a story." 

"Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess " 

"Why do you always begin the same way, with 'Once upon' ,..'>" 

"Quiet! A great author once said that every story should begin 
with 'Once upon a time.' Anyway, I'm the one who's telling it, not 
you. Just listen." 

He began again. "OtUX upon a time there was a beautiful princess, the 

24 The Mind's Eye 

Vivian Dorset 

fairest in the Sand. She had long blonde hair" — he picked up a strand of her 
hair and wound it. around his finger — "blue eyes and a happy smile. She 
was in love with a young man from the village, and he with her. But her father, 
the king, said she must marry the prince from a neighboring country, the son of 
his good friend King Richard. She did not want to marry the prince, but being a 
dutiful daughter, she obeyed her father. Her new husband was handsome, intel- 
ligent, charming and rich— after all, he was a prince— and all the ladies of her 
father's court told her that, in time, she would grow to love him. " 

"Something tells me I'm not going to like this story, either," she said. 

"Shhhh. . . . One day, while shopping in the village, the princess encoun- 
tered, for the first time in three years, the young man she had loved before her 
marriage. As soon as she saw him. she knew that she had made a mistake — 
she would never grow to love her husband. The young man had not married, 
and told the princess that he never would. He said that one week later, he would 
be at a small hotel in the next town, if she wished to see him again. " 

"Oh, it's four o'clock already! I have to go!" She jumped to her 
feet, grabbing her ciothes off the chair, off the floor, from wherever 
they had fallen when she had entered the room. 

"To be continued next week," he said. "Where's your car parked?" 

"Two blocks away, in the big supermarket lot." 

"OK, I'm in the other direction. You leave by the side door, and I'll 
wait fifteen minutes and go out the back." 

She placed her key on The bureau and left. 

He blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling. 
"Why do you always do that?" she asked. 
"Do what?" 

"Smoke — afterward. It makes me feel as though you've just fin- 
ished a good meal. Like I'm a slab of prime rib, or something." 
He laughed. "And a very rare one, at that." 
"It isn't funny." 

He reached over and brushed his hand across her cheek. "Well, I 
suppose the two are related — eating and sex — but it's just a habit, noth- 
ing for you to get upset over." 

She sighed resignedly. "Tell me a story," she said. 

"I thought you'd never ask. Let's see . . . where was I? Oh, yes — 
the princess and her old boyfriend had made an assignation for the 
hotel in the next town. The day came, and he was waiting in the room, 

The Mind's Eye 25 

Vivian Dorset 

looking out the window into the side street. She'll never come, he thought. It 
was foolish of me to even think of it. Too much is at stake. " 
"I told you I don't like this story," she said. 

"You end up not liking any of them, anyway. So I think I'll just 
continue with this one. 

"As the young man watched from the window, the princess turned the cor- 
ner and hurried toward the hotel's side entrance. She was wearing sunglasses 
and a wide-brimmed straw hat, but he would have known her anywhere. Two 
minutes later, the phone rang. He picked it up. 'Room three-twenty- five . ' he 
said, and put the phone down. It wasn 't until he heard the knock on the door 
that he realized he'd been ho/ding his breath. 

"They spent four hours together, their lovemaking interspersed with intense 
conversation — recollections of their earlier times together, declarations of how 
they had longed for each other during the past three years, promises of endless 
devotion. When it was time for the princess to leave, they made arrangements to 
meet the following week, at the same time and place. Again the young man 
watched the side street from the window as the princess, her face shielded with 
the hat and sunglasses, hurried from the hotel and turned the corner. 

"That day was just the beginning. Their passion-filled afternoons contin- 
ued, week after week. Rather than tiring of each other, the princess and her 
lover came to live only for those four hoursin room three -twenty-five, the rest 
of their week becoming something they had to endure between meetings. The 
young man had proposed many times that they run away together, but the 
princess always responded, fearfully, that it was out of the question. After four 
months, he told her that he could not bear these clandestine meetings any longer, 
and that if she did not come away with him, he would leave the country with- 
out her, forever. Distressed, she finally agreed to consider his plan and let him 
know her decision the following week. 

"On that day, watching as usual from the hotel-room window, he saw a 
shadowy figure slip out of a doorway across from the hotel and follow the 
princess around the comer. " 

"I knew it. Something terrible is going to happen," she said. "Why 
do you always do this to me?" She got out of bed and began putting 
on her clothes. "I have to leave now, anyway. TVy to think of some- 
thing better for next time." 

• • ■ 

"You looked especially lovely today, walking across the street in that 
flowered skirt," he said, lighting a cigarette and dropping the match into 

26 The Mind's Eye 

Vivian Dorset 

the glass ashtray beside the bed. "I was watching from the window." 

"Someone else was watching, too," she said, "A man— he's been 
following me all week. He was outside the dentist's building after my 
appointment Monday— and again at the tearoom where I had lunch 
with my sister on Wednesday." 

"What does he look like?" he asked. 

"Very ordinary — you know, average height, medium-brown hair, 
nondescript clothes, commonplace features," 

"You wouldn't be much help as a witness in court," he said. 

"Well, I can't help it," she replied. "That's exactly what a private 
operative is supposed to look like— so the person he's tailing won't 
notice him." 

"Where did you get that— from Chandler, or Hammed?" 
"You don't believe me, do you? You think I'm imagining the whole 

He shrugged, and crushed out his cigarette. "Aren't you going to 
ask me to tell you a story?" 

She hesitated. "Does it have to be the same one? About the prin- 
cess and her luvcr?" 

"Don't you want to know how it ends? It isn't much longer," he 
said, looking at his watch. "I can finish it today." 

She turned her face away from him, closing her eyes. "OK . . OK, 
I guess." 

"The following week, the princess turned the corner to the side street and 
looked up at the window where the young man usually sat watching for her. He 
wasn 't there. She stopped on the sidewalk, waiting for his face to appear. Seeing 
motion out of the corner of her eye, she turned and saw a man coming out the 
door of the hotel. He seemed familiar, but before she could get a good look, he 
turned up his raincoat collar and walked quickly in the other direction. 

"She looked up at the window again, but he still wasn t there. Suddenly 
alarmed, the princess ran into the hotel and up the stairs, not slopping until 
she reached room three-twenty-five. She paused to catch her breath, then 
knocked. When there was no answer, she knocked harder, nudging the door, 
which hadn't been completely closed, slightly ajar This startled her, and she 
pushed the door slowly, following it into the room. Her lover lay on the floor 
below the window, staring fixedly at the ceiling, a red stain spreading slowly 
across the front of his pale-blue shirt " 

"No! No! Stop! 1 knew something awful was going to happen," 

The Mind "j Eye 27 

Vivian Dorset 

she said, beginning 10 weep hysterically, "Change it! Change the end- 
ing! you can't let it stay that way." 

"What's the matter with you? It's only a story," he said, reaching 
toward her. 

She jerked her arm away and began gathering up her clothes. "It 
can't be that way ... it can't," she said. She began to button her blouse, 
found that she had put it on inside out and tore it off again. 

"All right, all right, 111 change it. Next week . . . next week I'll tell 
you another ending. Now calm down. You can't go home in that state. 
Take a deep breath; wash your face. I'll fix everything next week." 
« » • 

The man was standing in the lobby of the hotel when she arrived, 
his face half hidden behind the newspaper. There he is again, she 
thought, as the desk clerk gave her the key. Why is he watching me? 
What does he want? 

"Do you know that man?" she asked, leaning across the desk and 

"Pardon?" asked the cierk. 

"That man — over there — do you know him?" 

"No, Ma'am, I'm sorry, I don't." The clerk gave hera strange look. 
"Is there a problem?" 

"No, no . . . no problem." 

She got onto the elevator, pushed Five, and when she looked up 
through the slowly closing doors, the man was gone. She walked 
quickly down the fifth -floor corridor, her footsteps soundless on the 
carpeted floor. When she got to the room, she reached out to put the 
key into the lock, and stopped abruptly. Instead, she placed her palm 
Hat against the door and pushed, drawing her hand back quickly, as if 
it had been burned. Nothing happened; the door stayed closed. 

She reached out again to put the key into the lock, then dropped 
it and ran, not stopping until the hotel was far behind her. 

28 The Mind's Eye 


Thoreau at the Turn of 

the Millennium 


I began the millennium by pulling down from the shelf a copy of 
Walden. I'm not sure just why. I had any number of books started, 
and I remembered Walden as being rather difficult. I think it was a 
search for roots, wanting tu be reminded in all the boisterous noise of 
a changing age what I believe and why I have done what I have done 
over the past few years. 

It's haid to recall now, and many have since been born who didn't 
experience it at all, but the era in which I grew up was a curious mix. 
The 1950s were a sleepy, comfortable time. The war was over and 
children did not hear about Korea, a precursor to Vietnam. The 
economy was solid and there were plenty of jobs. We rode our bikes 
and played cowboys and Indians. Good and evil were clearly sepa- 
rated, whether at home or abroad. We looked to our parents for guid- 
ance and with our haircuts and neat clothes strove to conform. 

The Mind's Eye 29 

Thomas Weston Fets 

On our own time, though, we were a little more adventurous, 
and from the mid- to late 1950s, new influences appeared. As music 
changed, we listened less to Perry Como and more to The Platters. 
Elvis Presley appeared, seeking to tame wilder forces in music by tai- 
loring them to a popular audience, and then Chuck Berry, who didn't 
bother to tame them at all. News reached us of sit-ins in the South and 
the Beats in San Francisco and New York. Culture was changing around 
us, but we were still barely aware. 

By the early 1960s, these forces were far more apparent and be- 
ginning to shape our lives in earnest. As if without warning, the civil 
rights movement appeared on our own doorstep, and with it, folk 
music. Soon we were wearing long hair and demonstrating for peace. 
By the late 1 960s, it was clear that the freedom recommended by Dr. 
Spock, whose pediatric advice had been our parents' bible, had added 
a surprising new dimension to our lives. 

The collision of cultures and generations during this period produced 
some unexpected changes — among them, by the late 1960s, a reaction 
among some participants to all the frenetic activity of the preceding sev- 
eral years, If you had helped take over your college, and then found it 
soon reverted to what it had been; if you had helped end the war, but 
realized that another was on the horizon; if you had rejected the comfort 
of the suburbs, but now wanted some of your own, you had to ask: Is this 
working? Am I being effective? fs this the best we can do? 

For some, the answer was no. In the tradition of those ongoing 
changes, the generation that had experienced protest and an unpopu- 
lar war began to search for something new, Thoreau had been in the 
vanguard of the movements toward civil liberties and a pure moral 
conscience, but now we saw other elements in him as well. In small 
groups, people began to build their own cabins and search out ponds 
and farms on which the positive aspects of life could be pursued. 
Communities appeared much resembling Brook Farm, the celebrated 
communal experiment of Thoreau's peers and friends. Suddenly, like 
our mentor, we were protesting by guiding and leading by example. If 
no good food was available, we would grow it. If off was expensive, 
we would heat with wood. If sensitivity and concern appeared to be 
lacking, we would forge them ourselves among our friends. 

The success of this self-created world affected many of the post- 
war, sixties generation. People who had once dabbled in painting or 
pottery became painters and potters for life. Musicians who had felt 

30 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

the power of performing before audiences went on to make records 
and enfarge their public careers. Writers who had filled the columns 
of underground papers moved on to larger periodicals, books and film. 

Along the path, though, there were many decisions to be made. 
The serious artist or scholar encountered sacrifice and occasional dis- 
appointment. For some, a more stable livelihood pushed avocations to 
the status of important but not central pursuits in their lives. For those 
who stayed directly with their beliefs, there was often violence, legal 
liability, jail. For those who chose the country over the city, there was 
the difficulty of remaining effective outside the mainstream. As a whole, 
however, this generation remained committed and did effect change. 
As the psychologist and visionary — and creative wordsmith — Timothy 
Leary said: Once a coin is hent, it will no longer fit into the machine. 

a a a 

This was the sort of alternative life I chose, and so at the turn of 
the millennium, I found myself refreshing my memory and looking to 
my roots for strength to move on into another era. 

I was not disappointed by Walden. The first 50 pages of the chapter 
called "Economy" read as though I had written them myself. They 
were so familiar, despite the passage of time, that I found myself al- 
most surprised to be in the company of so kindred a spirit. 

But there was a great deal more than that. Looking over my reac- 
tions, I would put the resonances I felt into three categories. They 
reflect a philosophy adopted hy a large portion of my generation; the 
personal outlook f have embraced myself; and an odd set of idiosyn- 
cratic eccentricities characteristic of Thoreau. 

When 1 look at Walden as a member of the sixties generation, I see 
an emphasis on the personal and individual, a progressive attitude, 
humanitarianism and homage to the power of youth. 

When f look at the book and Thoreau himself in light of my own 
choices, 1 see a familiar focus on the local and regional, a philosophical 
bent, a tendency to embrace the primitive, a clearly antimaterialistic 
attitude and a commitment, despite the consequences, to the alterna- 
tive and unconventional. 

The personal traits that seem a strong, if somewhat more diffi- 
cult to place, part of Thoreau's legacy include an odd quirkiness along 
with the more recognized authorial inclinations toward observa- 
tion, analysis and metaphor, and a willingness to embrace a 
transcendent vision extreme even for a transcendentalist. 

The Mind's Eye 3 1 

Thomas Weston Pels 

While some, even most, of these attitudes and traits interrelate in 
some fashion, it is hard to discuss them without separating them out. 
Among all of them it is perhaps Thoreau's emphasis on the individual 
that has most become his hallmark. Though this is a tradition that in 
our time originates in Montaigne and Rousseau, and has been traced 
in cultural history as far back as Petrarch, one of the first to recognize 
nature, and Abelard, a pioneer of personal freedom, we still think of 
Thoreau as the man who moved to the woods to huild himself a cabin, 
as if nothing like it had ever happened before. Still, the emphasis on 
the individualism of Thoreau is not misplaced. Like Whitman, he makes 
it a first principle, declaring in the opening pages of Walden that the 
book will he written in the first person. "I should not talk so much 
about myself," he says in a well-known remark, "if there were any- 
body else whom 1 knew as well." 

Surely, though, in his far later day, Thoreau adds some signifi- 
cance to his personal actions not visible before on the public stage. His 
progressive beliefs, for example, include the self-motivation and inner 
direction we now expect of those following in his path. His commit- 
ment to doing things for their own sake reflects the individualism he 
prized. "A simple arid independent mind," he said, in the midst of a 
long disquisition on the enslavement of man to his external desires, 
"does not toil at the bidding of any prince. Genius is not on retainer." 

What he thought of the mind he applied to the body, and to the 
body politic, as well. As a humanitarian, he examined the ethical cost 
of labor and was critical of that new toy of society, the machine. In his 
social equation, loss of spirit was too high a price to pay for status and 
comfort, and he found that in their pursuit of gain, men had become, 
in his famous phrase, "tools of their tools." Aware of the disjunction 
between labor and the interests it served, he noted — assigning to labor 
a more appropriate measure of value — that it was the humble mason 
who created the ornate palace of the king. 

All of these themes familiar to members of my generation are capped 
finally by Thoreau's strong advocacy of the power of youth. Like 
Rousseau and Wordsworth, he saw youth not as a disadvantaged state 
but as a period of freshness, clarity, insight and vision, and recognized 
the importance of a broad and early education. Tire sum of his views 
places Thoreau in the first years of the progressive tradition in America, 
and precursor to practical idealists like Ghandi and King in the world of 

32 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

human rights, visionaries unafraid of new ideas. "Age is . . . hardly so 
well qualified for a n instructor as youth, " says Thoreau in the first pages 
of "Economy." "Practically, the old have no very important advice to 
give the young. . . . They are only less young than they were." 
i • • 

When I look at Walden in light of my own experience, the parallels 
extend even further. Thoreau's focus on the local, regional and rural, 
on his town, its land and its people, was certainly the role model for 
the back-to-the-land movement in which I took part. The veneration 
of farms and land, devotion to community and centering on tasks of 
the particular — gardening, building, craft — echo Thoreau's concerns 
and his intent to find the evidence of more general laws in specific 
acts, objects and locales. 

Also more like my own voyage than thai of some others of my 
time, Thoreau comes to this focus through the search for an appropri- 
ate milieu for the contemplative, philosophical and, in some ways, 
creative and artistic life he wants to lead. Simplicity is more than just 
an ideal for him; it provides the space in which he can perform the 
work he sees as his duties in life: contemplation, observation and analy- 
sis away from the distracting intrusions of the cultural world. He rec- 
ognizes the incommunicable nature of much that he does. "There are 
more secrets in my trade than in most," he says, apologizing in the 
midst of one of his most abstract passages. Yet other thinkers, writers 
and artists recognize this need as well, and his approach has provided 
a paradigm for those who followed. 

An extension of the simple life is Thoreau's appreciation of the primi- 
tive. Clearly, this is a legacy of Rousseau, and Romanticism, and the 
new recognition of unfamiliar cultures and folkways devefoping in the 
19th century from the Brothers Grimm to Gauguin. The fresh perspec- 
tive provided by expforation in the Pacific, Africa and the East, for ex- 
ample, offered a base from which to launch criticism of the needless 
complexities of life at home. As visitors and explorers, representatives 
of Western culture permitted themselves to freely interpret ways of life 
they were, in fact, unprepared to entirely understand. The result was a 
wave of idealization that finds its way quite clearly into Walden. Why pay 
to build an expensive farmhouse and cultivate grain, asks Thoreau, when 
you could live in a simple grass hut and enjoy nature in its original, 
uncultured state? Yet Thoreau was also influenced in a more complex 

The Mind's Eye 11 

Thomas Weston Fels 

way by the new knowledge of the East. Like other transcendentalists, 
he was well educated, and the directness of Eastern philosophy appealed 
to him. While he was capable of saying in Wnlden that contemplation of 
his tablecloth offered him, at moments, the same amusement as the 
Iliad — a thought that would be congenial to a Buddhist but anathema 
to many of his academic contemporaries — he was, of course, familiar 
with the Iliad and what it represented. In offering this lesson, then, he 
suggests two things rather than one. First, that life may be more simple 
and that the primitive — everyday, unrefined objects — may offer a field 
of interest yet largely unexplored. But second, by implication, that the 
classics offer us much — as much as his tablecloth might offer him. Such 
convictions have long formed an important part of my own daily life, 
which might be chaxacterized, as Thoreau did his own, as a frontier life 
in the midst of civilization. 

With views like these, we are not surprised to find Thoreau a ra- 
bid antimaterialist. In the chapter "Economy," luxuries and comforts 
are perceived as hindrances and society's improvements are seen as 
illusory and even dangerous. Why risk a train wreck, he asks, when 
you could reach your destination by quietly walking? St. Petersburg, 
the glittering social and financial capital of prerevolutionary Russia, is 
portrayed as a mere emanation of a swamp that could at any time be 
wiped away by a flood of the nearby River Neva. No friend of furni- 
ture or the trade by which it proliferates, Thoreau suggests we peri- 
odicalty pite up our own, outdoors, and burn it in a merry fete bor- 
rowed from the community "busk" ceremony of the native American 
Indian. Again, tike Thoreau, but without his severity, I have also found 
materialism to be unproductive, and a simple life to be a good founda- 
tion for independence and thought. 

Finally, I find Thoreau's acceptance of his alternative views and style 
of living to be prophetic of many others', including my own. His com- 
mitment to his role is emblematized in his description of the "irresistible 
voice" that guides him along a path of nonconformity. To us, this 
postrevolutionary, Romantic outlook is hardly new, but while it is fa- 
miliar to most on the creative side of human endeavor, the boost Thoreau 
has provided by bolstering rhe credibility of self-motivation has had a 
great impact on the flexibility with which we can approach the tasks of 
creative life. With Waldenm hand, we are less surprised to find dwellers 
at the pond's edge or on the mountain slope, and many of the paths 

34 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Fets 

thai have opened in the larger social life of our culture owe their origins 
to the boldness inspired by this author and philosopher. 

» • • 

Eventually, we come to the qualities that seem to be those of 
Thoreau alone, the traits we see as his personal mark, irrespective of 
time, subject or point of view. He is, for example, famously quirky, 
contrary, even crotchety, and frequently adapts his perceptions and 
explanations to his own needs. Early in Walden, he declares himself 
unwilling to indulge in the overcivilized act of dusting his desk; as a 
result, he throws out the window the few amenities he has assembled. 
Later, he explains that he forgoes the use of yeast not as any matter of 
principle but because on the way home from the market, it tends to 
spill in his pocket. Certainly, this is a problem Walden's practical man 
of the woods could have solved. In a series of hardly tenable asser- 
tions, he declares that he could not teach, because he could not accept 
this role simply as a form of labor, and that philanthropy was unac- 
ceptable if it were not directed to those who merit it for their views as 
well as to those who are merely in financial need. Common sense 
would tell us that a teacher— especially Thoreau— would need to em- 
brace such work (or its own rewards and that it is the poor and not 
philosophers who most need our support. To understand Thoreau and 
his work, we need to grasp that he sees himself as an exception, set 
apart. After the careful accounting of his income and expenses that is 
a well-known aspect of Walden, Thoreau peremptorily declares that 
though he often eats out, this will not be figured into the equation of 
his life at the pond, a convenient oversight. 

Despite his ability to bend the facts, Thoreau does know them far 
better than most. He is highly observant, almost preternaturally so. His 
observations are charming and varied. He notes, for example, that the 
comforters on our beds are simply the "nests and breasts of birds" 
Tecydcd to warm our own. His observations on the humanistic signifi- 
cance of the parts of the house — door, window, cellar, garret — presage 
those of later philosophers, like Gaston Bachelard, who explored them 
more fully. His grasp of contemporary views, such as those of the in- 
novative architect A. J. Downing, which he might have been expected 
to like, is likewise piercing, observing that they are more truly style 
than the substance they purport to represent. Some of his observations 
are startlingly modern in scope and perception. He is an early observer 
that in the great improvements occurring in communication, ease of 

The Mind's Eye 35 

Thomas Weston Feb 

exchange soon exceeded growth or depth of content, and that increased 
facility of travel would eventually lead to a leveling of culture. Propheti- 
cally, as we look at today's world of malls and McDonald's, "grading the 
whole surface of the planet" is what he called it, a rema rkably apt phrase 
for one who never saw an airport or a parking lot. 

Thoreau can also be carefuUy analytical. He balances his approach 
to food, shelter, clothing and fuel with scientific precision, and analyzes 
life naked and clothed with the growing tools of the nascent science of 
anthropology. His theories of education are remarkably well conceived, 
approaching the lines of progressivism at its peak in the early 20th cen- 
tury. At the same time, he manages to embrace a metaphorical view 
that is crucial to both his vision and his style. Combining observation 
and interpretation, he points out that roots enable us to reach up, and 
that manufactured ornament (one of his great antipathies) is frequently 
hollow. If men built their own houses, he suggests, as birds build their 
nests, maybe they would sing, too. He has a reductivist tendency, speak- 
ing of houses, for example, as boxes. His inclination to turn observation 
and knowledge into aphorism resembles that of his most prominent 
American forebear in this arena, Benjamin Franklin. 

Through all of this shines, of course, the quality that most defines 
Thoreau: the vision and clarity without which we would probably not 
read him at all. In speaking of his own motives, he declares that he 
works not for himself but for all humanity. In recounting a bit of East- 
ern wisdom, he reveals his ability to judge character and its possibility 
for growth. "Startling and informing" things could be learned, he says 
early on in Walden, if we could only see through each other's eyes. 
Such bold expressions are the work of a visionary and idealist. That 
they should be rooted in the practicality Thoreau took as his approach 
has provided a model for a century and a half. It's a useful model with 
which to face the future, as well as to understand the past. 

• • • 

It was these many qualities, I think, that drew me back to Thoreau. 
In addition, they recalled for me the role he had played for others of my 
generation, especiafly my old friend Raymond Mungo, a founder and 
guiding spirit of the communal farms on which we both once lived. 
Mungo was a Boston radical from a working-class background. Like 
other litterateurs from the factory towns of Lawrence and Lowell, 
Massachusetts, among them Jack Kerouac and, more recently, the 

36 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

Theroux family, Mungo shared Thoreau's combination of social aware- 
ness, literary values and the penetrating, eponymous frankness of the 
French. In Mungo 's capable hands, Thoreau offered guidance through 
which he worked to consciously redirect the values and energies of a 
displaced generation. Prizing the individual, he headed away from the 
partisan confusion of the day to what then seemed the calm far reaches 
of New England, a farm in Vermont, that was simply a larger version of 
Thoreau's cabin in the woods. Treasuring independence, those of us 
who joined him were all soon building and gardening to sustain our 
own lives. Respecting progressive social politics, we believed, guided by 
Mungo, that our actions would make a difference. As energetic youth 
in the era of the sixties, we were also aware that, like Thoreau, we 
might make our case to the public at a distance through the expanded, 
influential and newly accessible media of the day. 

Though Raymond stayed at the farms onfy a few years, his influ- 
ence, and thus that of his mentor Thoreau, was considerable. He was, 
for one thing, an inveterate talker, and we were treated regularly to 
lectures and anecdotes that originated in his consideration of Thoreau. 
He was also a prolific author. During his time at the farm, Mungo, 
then only in his early 20s, produced several books, two of which. Fa- 
mous Long Ago and Total Loss Farm, are direct descendants of the phi- 
losopher from Concord. The latter begins with a chapter recounting 
an adventure of Raymond's on assignment for The Atlantic Monthly: 
"Another Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers," inspired by 
Thoreau's description of a similar voyage, published in 1S49. Indeed, 
when I later looked back as I read Hawthorne's Blithedak Romance, 
published only two years before Walden, I realized how close were the 
experiences of Brook Farm, Walden Pond and the back-to -the -land 
farms of the 1960s. Some of the scenes, sentiments and even char- 
acters in The Blithedak Romance— charismatic leaders, mesmerized 
followers, spiritualists, ideologues — could be recognized, more than 
100 years later, almost word for word. 

As aspiring arbiters of social attitudes, rather than participants in 
the direct action of politics, we were also heirs to the belief that to live 
in simplicity outside the direct rule of society was 10 play an hon- 
orable role. Like Thoreau, we contented ourselves with life on the 
periphery, and the purity of our pursuits was ample reward for the 
privileges we left behind. We had barns, dirt roads and woods. "I was 

The Mind's Eye 37 

Thomas Weston Pels 

once offered a good salary as an editor in New York," Raymond later 
told me. But what he would have had to give up to achieve the com- 
fort of middle-class wealth meant more to him than the money that 
would have replaced it. "1 turned the fellow down," he said flatly, 

In an age in which friends of Raymond burned dollar bills and 
showered free money down onto the stock exchange, antimaterialism 
was a viable way of life. We compensated instead by enjoying our 
individualism and freedom, and this continues up to the present, from 
the Sergeant Pepper jackets and peace symbols of the sixties to the 
unruly rap music of today. But behind those obvious signs, we should 
see more. If Thoreau and Mungo were encouraging us to be quirky 
and to bend the facts, they were also seriously observant and analyti- 
cal, and motivated by a vision and clarity rare in any era. While much 
that occurred in that time was colorful and amusing, its higher pur- 
pose provided it with a value that will certainly endure. 

• • • 

One important thing Raymond, Henry and I all have in common 
is our house. In naming his opening chapter "Economy," Thoreau was 
certainly encouraging reference to the frugality he expounded and to 
the holistic approach implied when we think about systems — econo- 
mies and societies, for example — and how they work. But he was also 
surely aware, as we can tell from his focus in Walden, that the root of the 
word economy is oikos, the Greek word for house. The classic model for 
an economy — a complete functioning system, a sphere in which mu- 
tual effort is devoted to meaningful purpose— from ancient limes to our 
own, is the house. If your house is in order, as the expression goes, all is 
well. By showing us his own house in detail, and suggesting in strong 
terms how a house might best be run, Thoreau, and later Mungo, offers 
us advice central to our life and that of the surrounding community — 
an aggregation of houses. In this way, he joins Confucius and other 
sages unafraid to confront basic issues, who see the grander aspects of 
fife as being based on the quotidian, routine and habitual. How you live 
is who you are. In addressing this through the primary vehicle of our 
life, the house, Thoreau was clearly attempting to get us where we live. 

Where I live, of course, expresses something about myself and my 
relation to Thoreau and others I admire, or from whom I have learned. 
Like many, I found parental homes both comforting and at the same 
time lacking in some of the necessities and accoutrements of the life of 

JS The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Ms 

a new generation. In the area of New York and its suburbs where I lived 
until 1 was 11, and even later, when my parents mnved our family to 
Vermont, the feeling of the postwar years was comfort and ease. Noth- 
ing opulent, simply a deep breath after an era of depression and war. 

Yet ease can be stifling. As soon as I was done with college, 1 set out 
to achieve a style of riving from which 1 have never departed. Fleeing 
the security of comfortable homes and apartments, T maintained a 
series of houses that cost little but provided me with the essentials I 
needed: order and space— the environment [ favored to pursue my work. 
Surprisingly, as we see in Walden, these need not be expensive. In Boston's 
perennially undeveloped South End, I found apartments that were 
palatial by today's standards, lacking only amenities such as water, 
plumbing, safety and heat. As with Henry, friends asked me if I were 
not rather misguided to live in that way. My answer was, as Henry 
might have said himself, wasn't it odd for them to have alf the ameni- 
ties—television, stereo, expensive furniture— but none of the true 
comforts: a studio, a wonderful porch, a study of their own? 

Over the years, in Gloucester, New York, Nova Scotia and finally 
returning to Vermont, I had all of those things. But like Henry, I had to 
adapt. A sweeping marble patio is not necessary to enjoy the view; a 
little patch of fawn will suffice. A giant desk achieved through a con- 
catenation of panels and doors with boxes and a stray stepladder for 
support is still a great work space, if a little awkward by contemporary 
standards of decoration. Nothing can replace floor-to-ceiling windows, 
despite the deteriorating condition of their woodwork. 

Of all my homes, those at the farm where I knew Raymond per- 
haps best met the high standards of the hermit of Walden, Rooms in 
the big farmhouse, in an old garage, in a hayioft and finally in a cabin 
1 built myself were all, in substance, little different from my other 
attempts at a hermetic life. What was different was their association 
with a group of people, the uthers at the farm, that made it a com- 
mune of the classic sort. For, while Thoreau's style at Walden is what 
is most remembered, the simplicity was meant, as it was at the farm, 
to be a guiding light, an example to others of how they might live. 

Oddly, this effort of mine to live the life of our moral founder in just 
the sort of context of which he would supposedly have approved — a com- 
plete, functioning, self-sufficient community or "economy" — was not 
highly thought of. Among those who figured themselves latter-day 

The Mind's Eye 39 

Thomas Weston Fels 

Thoreaus, the stringency of his mission was threatening in a time of 
narcissism and plenty. From this experience 1 learned the important 
lesson that principles I might consider fundamental may often be seen 
to be in competition with those held equally vehemently by others. I 
noted with a new sense of its relevance that Thoreau was, after all, at 
Walden and not at Brook Farm. 

From that point on, I adapted my living situations to a larger world 
where there was more room for tolerance. I moved back to a traditional 
civic community in which I was known, feeling that I could be more 
effective there than 1 had been in the rarefied world of open dissent. My 
house — there have been several of them in this town, where f have 
been now for well over 40 years — remains a refuge of order and space. 
Externally, though, and even in some of its internal features, it is far 
more accommodating to its neighbors and its milieu, ft remains the bare 
bones of a solid home, financially tenuous and difficult to maintain, but 
by protecting the fullness of my life and that of my family and friends, 
and also accommodating itself to its surroundings, my house reflects 
who I am, making it a good example of Thoreau 's admonition that our 
home function both as a bulwark for our individuality and beliefs and 
as an educational tool for their promulgation. 

These lessons are among the reasons we might read Thoreau to- 
day. In a world disrupted by ideological conflict and strife, and a soci- 
ety still strongiy based on materialism, it seems more relevant than 
ever to defend humanistic values and support a pluralistic view. As 
the planet shrinks, the option to get along becomes increasingly the 
necessity to do so, and curiosity about other cultures and ways of life 
no longer a pastime but an essential tool. Despite his cranky habits, 
Thoreau was a visionary on these fronts. Like other visionaries — Lin- 
coln, Gandhi, King — he directed his intolerance at intolerance itself, 
at encouraging freedom, ai uniting the house divided, Today, the les- 
sons of Thoreau are more important than ever, After noting these 
thoughts, I closed the book, satisfied that my impulses to take it down 
had been justified, and returned it to its place, where I could find it if 
needed, on a shelf in the study, in my house. 

40 The MindS Eye 

Review Essay 

The Lure of Italy: 
Nathaniel Hawthorne 
and The Marble Faun 


Based on Lea Bertani Vozar Newman, "Hawthorne's Summer 
in Florence: Reliving a Honeymoon, the Dante Connection, 
and the Nascent Marble Faun" 

Every summer thousands of people from abroad pour into Italy's 
major art and cultural centers; spill out over the countryside 
flooding vineyards and olive groves, seeping into villas and re- 
stored farmhouses. Italy has become one of the premier tourist attrac- 
tions oh the globe. This love of the Italian peninsula is not a recent 
phenomenon, however. Following the Renaissance, Italy became an 
essential stop on the Grand Tour undertaken by sons of the wealthy to 
finish their education. Visual and literary artists also visited Italy to 
complete their classical and artistic training or simply to find inspira- 
tion from its beautiful countryside and ancient ruins. By the middle of 
the !9th century, the advent of faster boat travel brought even more 
people to join the swelling numbers. Americans were among this fast- 
growing itinerant population that included Nathaniel Hawthorne, his 
wife, Sophia, and family, who settled in Florence during the summer 
of 1 858, In her provocative essay "Hawthorne's Summer in Florence," 

The Mind's Eye il 

Tony Cengarelly 

Lea Newman deftly recounts how one American literary artist drew 
inspiration from his local surroundings: the city's history, art and cul- 
ture; the countryside and its bucolic traditions; his fellow artists abroad 
and the indigenous population. 

The major literary accomplishment from this sojourn in Italy, which 
also included a lengthy stay in Rome, was Hawthorne's novel The Marble 
Faun. In this Italian "romance," Hawthorne's descriptive powers are 
markedly displayed as he carefully details the environs of Rome's 
Pincian gardens. Piazza delPopolo, the old Forum and Colosseum, the 
Pantheon, the interior of St. Peter's Basilica and the Umbrian and 
Tuscan countryside. In fact, the descriptions are so vividly presented 
that a special edition of The Marble Faun, illustrated with pictures of 
the places mentioned in the novel, was published in 1 860 to help stimu - 
late the English and American tourist trade (Stcbbins A42-A~i). Along 
with this topographical accuracy and an interesting plot, Hawthorne's 
Italian story carries a strong message about the human condition. The 
author's tale involves a journey from innocence to consciousness, and 
the illusions and hard realities faced by his characters are remarkably 
prescient given the nature of our historical moment. Although the 
novel is focused on Rome, Newman, in her carefully researched essay, 
convincingly suggests that the seeds for this literary effort were sewn 
in Florence during the summer of 1858. One of the novel's main char- 
acters, the "faun" Donatello, is derived from a number of influences 
clearly rooted in Hawthorne's time in and around the "City of Art." 

In the opening paragraphs, Hawthorne introduces Donatello as 
an unsophisticated spirit of nature. His ancestral home in the Hjscan 
countryside, Monte Beni, has for generations housed a family in 
direct communion with nature; he is a living embodiment of the pas- 
toral ideal. Donatello, the last count of Monte Beni, has come to Rome 
and met up with a group of artists, two Americans and one of myste- 
rious origins, who find a remarkable resemblance between him and 
the marble faun of Praxiteles at the Capitoline Museum. Indeed, it is 
thought that Donatello even has the faun's pointed ears hidden 
beneath his myriad black curls. This coincidental connection is adept 
on another level, too. Although the group admires Donatello's physi- 
cal beauty and lively spirit, he is considered, like the Faun, to be a 
creature of woods and fields, half man and half animal, not a fully 
developed human being. He is viewed as "a pet dog, " an "underwitted" 

42 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengarelly 

person trapped in "happy ignorance"(Hawthome 14-19), As the story 
unfolds, Donatello murders a strange and frightening specter — in re- 
ality a Capuchin monk — who has been persecuting his beloved Miriam, 
the painter of mysterious origins. His crime orfall from innocence into 
consciousness (the "fortunate fall" 1 ) is the beginning of Donatello's 
moral, hence human, development that unfolds as the story winds to 
its tragic climax. 

Using Hawthorne's notebooks and letters, along with those of 
Sophia, Newman identifies a number of Florence-based instances that 
helped the author formulate Donatello's character, his background and 
family tradition. First we learn of the author's discovery of the 1 5th- 
century statue of David by the Renaissance sculptor Donatello. Much 
taken with this famous piece of art, the first statue in the nude since 
the classical period, Hawthorne derives both the name and the essen- 
tial charade ristics of his novel's main protagoni st from this encounter. 
For the Donatello of The Marble Faun not only is named after the 
famous sculptor, he also has the beauty and boyish features of the 
bronze David, as well as the latent capacity to act dramatically and kill 
a Goliathlike specter haunting his adored Miriam (Newman 65). 

The Ffawthornes' affection for Dante, which predated their stay in 
Italy, is revived in Florence, where reminders of this literary giant are 
found on 34 plaques located throughout the city. As Newman meticu- 
lously records, Hawthorne used a number of Dante-inspired features 
in his "gothic" novel. For instance, Dante's images of hell and heaven 
help punctuate the fall from innocence and subsequent struggle for 
redemption experienced by Donatelto: The image of two tormented 
souls condemned to witness each other's crimes for eternity, recounted 
in the Inferno, describes the fate of Donatello and his lover/soulmate, 
the beautiful Miriam, for whom he committed murder; Dante's 
description of the ascension from the inferno into Paradise is interest- 
ingly paralleled in The Marble Faun with Hawthorne's account of a 
climb up the dark stairway of the Monte Beni tower, through rooms 

' In his book The American Adam, R. W. B. Lewis employs Ihis phrase, which relers 10 the 
tali from 'innocence into consciousness" in the Genesis myth, to discuss American 
Romantic literature's interpretation of the Atnerican experience. His term "the fortu- 
nate fall" is especially applicable to Hawthorne's work and. in particular, to The Marble 
Faun (Lewis 117-56: Hawthorne 329). 

The Mind's Bye ii 

Tony Gengarelly 

that formerly held prisoners of note (including the monk Savonarola), 
to the "pure air and light of Heaven" above (Newman 68). In fact, this 
climb from perdition toward the "light of Heaven" is a dominant motif 
for several of the novel's characters, all of whom are in some way 
tainted by Donatello's crime. 

Then, Newman recounts that the Hawthornes left Florence dur- 
ing August and September to take up residence at the Villa Montauto 
on Bellosguardo hill a few miles outside the city. She brings telling 
evidence to her explanation of how the author transferred his time at 
the Villa Montauto into the novel that was beginning to take shape in 
his mind. Here, in this place with its lofty tower and machicolated 
battlements, Hawthorne is inspired to weave the context fur Donatello's 
ancestral home and family. The physical appearance and bucolic loca- 
tion of the villa are transported into the novel as the Estate of Donatello, 
the Count of Monte Beni. The son of Count Montauto, who rented the 
villa to the Hawthornes, also suggested physical parallels to the novel's 
Donatello (including his pointed ears). Even the author's ritualistic 
farewell to this beautiful place, recorded in The French and Italian Note- 
books, is followed by one of the Faun'i characters, the American sculp- 
tor Kenyon, as he prepares his departure from the fictional Monte 
Beni (Newman 65-68). 

Then and now, Florence offers ample opportunity tu explore the 
art of sculpture that figures so prominently in The Marble Faun. As 
their letters and notebooks attest, the Hawthornes familiarized them- 
selves with a variety of Italian sculpture during their stay. In addition, 
Newman relates that their residence lay just across the street from the 
studio of the American scufptor Hiram Powers (Newman 54). Powers, 
as well as other American sculptors Hawthorne had occasion to meet 
in Italy (including William Wetmore Story, whose famous statue of 
Cleopatra is featured in The Marble Faun), were an elite group, much 
admired by English and American tourists who patronized their work 
(Stebbins 87). Hawthorne evidently learned a good deal from these 
artists about the lile of the American sculptor abroad. 

In fact. Powers and Story serve as the prototype for Hawthorne's 
fictional sculptor Kenyon, whose studio in Rome displays sume of the 
more recognizable works of art done by Americans. In his preface to 
the 1859 edition of The Marble Faun, Hawthorne confesses to this 
liberal borrowing in order to provide his character with an appropri- 

44 The MindS Eye 

Tony GengaTilly 

ate backdrop: "The author laid felonious hands upon a certain bust of 
Milton, and a statue of a pearl-diver, which he found in the studio of 
Mr. Paul Akers, and secretly conveyed them to the premises of his 
imaginary friend, in the Via Frezza, Not content even with these spoils, 
he committed a further robbery upon a magnificent statue of Cfeopatra, 
the production of Mr. William W. Story" (vii). The connection is evi- 
denced as well through Hawthorne's understanding, derived from 
Powers and others, of the scufptor's craft; at one point in the novel, his 
lictional artist relates how convenient it is to be in Italy, where skilled 
craftsmen can be hired to carve marble statues based on the Ameri- 
can sculptor's clay models: "In Italy, there is a class of men whose 
merely mechanical skill is perhaps more exquisite than was possessed 
by the ancient artificers who wrought out the designs of Praxitefes" 
(89). Kenyon, like actual 19th-century sculptors, is involved in 
producing neoclassical figures in the guise of Indian or Egyptian 
princesses. And, like them, he risks being dated and irrelevant. Upon 
viewing Kenyon 's studio, his artist friend Miriam comments: '"Except 
for portrait busts, sculpture has no longer a right to claim any place 
among living arts. ... A person familiar with the Vatican, the Uffizi 
Gallery, the Naples Gallery, and the Louvre will at once refer any mod- 
ern production to its antique prototype; which, moreover, had begun 
to get out of fashion, even in old Roman days.'" (95). Prom his time in 
Florence, as well as Rome, Hawthorne certainly knew his contempo- 
rary sculpture and sculptors. Modeling this rich material, he created 
his own version of the American sculptor in Italy. 

Newman also recounts that Nathaniel and Sophia were very moved 
by the Medici Chapel in the church of St. Lorenzo in Florence. The 
chapel itself and the principal sculptural groups therein were designed 
and carved by Michelangelo in the 16th century. The statue of the 
young Lorenzo de Medici especially impressed them, and Hawthorne 
remarks in his journal about its lifelike appearance (Newman 54-55). 
The evidence is most likely not available to take this encounter fur- 
ther, but one cannot help but speculate that this Medici sculpture and 
others by Michelangelo might well have had a profound influence on 
Hawthorne's rendering of certain moments in The Marble Faun. For 
this brooding form of the Medici prince, which looks forward to Rodin's 
Thinker, is redolent of Michelangelo's Neoplatonic vision that appears 
and reappears at various times in his art. The Neoplatonic idea that 

The MindS Eye 4,5 

Tony Gengarelly 

mankind's transcendent spirit is imprisoned by earthbound forms is 
contemplated as Lorenzo sits above the inert figures of Dusk and Dawn 
that recline on the volutes of the pediment below him, their bodies 
weighed down and their souk trapped in an endless cycle of earthly 
existence (Panofsky 178— 83 ) . To expand a bit further, it seems that 
Hawthorne carries this Neoplatonic perception into The Marble Faun 
when, toward the end of the story, he recounts an incident in Kenyon's 
studio. The American scufptor uncovers a half-finished portrait bust of 
his friend Donatello, who, since his "fall" from innocence into conscious- 
ness, has begun to evolve into a man of human awareness, rising out 
of what was once a beastlike Faun. The incomplete sculpture reveals 
something that startles Kenyon and his artist companion Hilda: 

"What do you take it to be?" asked the sculptor. 

"1 hardly know how to define it," she answered. "But it 
has an effect as if 1 could see this countenance gradually bright- 
ening while 1 look at it. It gives the impression of a growing 
intellectual power and moral sense. Donatello's face used to 
evince little mote than a genial, pleasurable sort of vivacity, 
and capability of enjoyment. But, here, a soul is being breathed 
into him; it is the Faun, but advancing towards a state of higher 
development." (274) 

In a manner similar to Michelangelo's unfinished slaves, originally 
intended for the tomb of Pope Jufius II and most likely on display 
in Florence during Hawthorne's sojourn there, Hawthorne's fictional 
sculptor has created an incomplete form in which the soul is strug- 
gling to free itself from matter (Fleming 296-97). Indeed, Hawthorne 
may well have had Michelangelo's figures, these and others, in mind 
when he wrote this section of the novel. The author leaves a faint trail 
for us to consider by concluding: "And, accordingly, Donatello's bust 
(like that rude, rough mass of the head of Brutus, by Michael Angelo, 
at Florence) has ever since remained in an unfinished state" (274). 

Hawthorne's stay in Florence was, in many ways, the realization 
of a dream. As Newman relates, "Nathaniel and Sophia's love letters 
reveal that their Italian fantasy dates back to before their marriage" 
(55). Once achieved, the time in Florence became for the Hawthornes 
a second honeymoon and for Nathaniel an Arcadian moment that he 
translated into his Italian "romance." The dreary winter the Hawthornes 

46 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengarilly 

spent in Rome, however, contrasts sharply with their halcyon sum- 
mer in Florence, The bitter cold especially affected Nathaniel, who left 
sight-seeing to Sophia, while he "stayed home in front of the fireplace 
'with his feet thrust into the coals, and an open volume of Thackeray 
upon his knees'" (Newman 57). At one point, Newman recounts, he 
wrote in his notebook: "I shall never be able to express how I dislike 
the place and how wretched I have been in it" (56). Hawthorne's per- 
sonal preference continues in The Marble Faun, where he sets Florence 
and especially its bucolic surroundings over against the older, decay- 
ing spectacle of Rome. The Eternal City becomes a squalid replica of a 
more glorious past overlaid by centuries of Catholicism (85). 
Hawthorne seldom mentions the Baroque grandeur of the city. When 
he does at one point take the reader into St. Peter's Basilica, he fails to 
mention any of Bernini's sculpture (which we learn elsewhere in the 
book is not too highly regarded) and his alter ego Kenyon comments 
that the grand structure would be vastly improved if it contained 
"painted windows" (263). Clearly, Hawthorne's experience with the 
two cities, underlined by comments in his Notebooks and the Faun, 
unmask a traveler whose personal encounters may well have deter- 
mined how he interpreted what he saw, 2 

Regardless of personal preference, Hawthorne uses the halcyon 
landscape of Tuscany as a backdrop to the prima) innocence of his 

1 Hawthorne's conditioned outlook is more than understandable when one realizes 
how personal experience can condition viewpoint. For instance, having visited Flo- 
rence twice during January (in 1 983 and 1 990}, unencumbered by crowds or pressured 
by time. I was very disappointed by my last visit there one Saturday in late March 2000, 
which did not at all meet prior expectations and left me with a sense that the city had 
changed dramatically during the intervening years. 

Driving in from the Chianti countryside, where my wife and I had been renting a 
restored farmhouse near Radda, we approached Florence anticipating a leisurely time 
of sight-seeing and some private moments with great works of art. Encountering more 
traffic than we had experienced on previous visits, we found ourselves pressed for time, 
and. after struggling to find a parking space near the Porta Romana. we raced to the 
Bargello before the noon closing time, only to find that the museum was closed to the 
public on the third Saturday of every month (not mentioned in any of the guidebooks). 

Disappointed, we wandered through the city during the siesta hours. The beautiful 
weekend had brought crowds into the city who jam med the streets — throngs of people 
who all seemed to be consuming gelato cones, teenagers on their way ro the Piazza 
della Signoria, where a massive concert platform with steel girders imposingly stood 

The Minds Eye 47 

Tony Gengarelly 

main protagonist Donatello, whose life at Monte Beni embodies the 
pastoral ideal so often presented in the bucolic landscapes of Ameri- 
can painters during the 19th century. Hawthorne's description of the 
view from Monte Beni tower almost describes a scene from a Hudson 
River School painting: "The Umbrian valley that suddenly opened 
before him, set in its grand framework of nearer and more distant 
hills. . . . There was the broad, sunny smile of God . . . and beneath it, 
glowed a most rich and varied fertility" (188). 

After his crime of passion, Donatello retreats from "corrupt Rome" 
to this ancestral home in the Apennines. However, burdened by his act 
of murder, he is no longer able to connect with the natural world or 
even to appreciate its beauty. So he returns to Rome to accept responsi- 
bibty for his deed, to comptete the evolution of his soul. Ironically, it is 
Rome that holds the key to human development in the novel. The 

before the Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia. Before long, we heard blasts of rock music 
that reverberated up and down every street in the venerable city. Upon inquiry, we 
were told that an "Internet concert" was in progress. We sat disconsolately in the Uffizi 
loggia, munching on our bag lunches, white lines of people— yes, lines in March!— 
spilled out of the museum awaiting the three-o'clock hour to enter. 

Finally, we sought refuge across the Arno in Santa Maria del Carmine, where I 
eagerly anticipated the sight of recently cleaned frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel. Years 
before. I had been awed by the extraordinary cycle of Saint Peter (done by Masoltno, 
Masaccio and Filippino Lippi), and now I would be seeing it in its original glory. The 
chapel was a bit crowded, but not enough to interfere with our communion with these 
vibrant frescoes. Transfixed with the landscape background in one ol MasacciD's contri- 
butions. I failed to notice that the chapel was becoming very crowded. Then I heard a 
dull murmur and turned to catch full blast the first of several diatribes coming from a 
very enthusiastic guide and delivered to a group of pilgrims standing in rapt attention. 
And so it went before every fresco in the chapel. We did not stay through it all. winding 
our way in tense silence out of the church and into the cloister beyond. We sat for a few 
moments wondering, given the circumstances, whether the mile-and-a-hall walk from 
the center of the city had really been worth it, 

So it went for us on a Saturday in March in Florence. Obviously, we had not been 
prepared for what we encountered. Instead ol accepting the situation and seizing the 
opportunity to enjoy the city and its people, we reacted negatively, persisted in trying 
to recapture the meditative feeling of our previous visits. Experience does, indeed, con- 
dition perception; anticipation helps mold response, whether it is Nathaniel Hawthorne 
allowing the winter weather to limit his stay in Rome or some shell-shocked travelers of 
lesser note retreating in disappointment from a modem city's hustle and bustle several 
generations later. 

48 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengarelly 

idyllic landscape of Tuscany is an illusion of peace and innocence. The 
journey to Rome, then, becomes another example of the necessary tran- 
sition from innocence to consciousness. As Hawthorne relates: 

When we have once known Rome, and left her where she 
lies, like a long-decaying corpse . . . left her, crushed down in 
spirit with the desolation of her ruin, and the hopelessness of 
her future — left her, in short, hating her with all our might, 
and adding our individual curse to the infinite anathema 
which her old crimes have unmistakably brought down — 
when we have left Rome in such mood as this, we are aston- 
ished by the discovery, by and by, that our heartstrings have 
mysteriously attached themselves to the Eternal City, and are 
drawing us thitherward again, as if it were more familiar, more 
intimately our home, than even the spot where we were born. 

Interestingly, the American painter Hilda, another symbol of 
innocence in the novet, never left Rome to seek the consolations of 
the countryside. A witness to Donatello's murderous act, she is crushed 
with despair. Yet, after her loss of innocence, her discovery of evil in 
the world, Hilda realizes that she is in possession of a new awareness; 
she can bring a clear gaze to the work of the venerated Italian mas- 
ters — which she heretofore slavishly copied — and begin to separate 
mere artifice from genuine human expression. No longer able to ride 
the romantic passion of aesthetic encounter, she has gained in artistic 
insight: "She saw beauty less vividly, but fell truth, or the lack of it, 
more profoundly" (Hawthorne 244). She had remained in Rome, 
Where her human destiny needed to unfold. 

Thus, it would seem, Hawthorne's romance with Florence and sur- 
roundings was only a prelude to this profound encounter with the more 
uncomfortable and less appealing city of Rome. As Newman recounts 
so well, he most likely needed the distance and stimulation of Florence 
to begin the dialectic between innocence and consciousness that works 
its way through The Marble Faun, I am indebted to her meticulous and 
accurate craftsmanship that has allowed me to carry further some of the 
insights she has brought to bear on this timeless subject. 

As Americans move beyund their bucolic age of innocence and gradu- 
ally shed the myth of an Edenic paradise supported by technology. 

The Mind's Eye 49 

Tony Gengarelly 

economic and military power, the insights that a "dark Romantic" 
writer generated from his Italian interlude during the summer of 1858 
seem more and more relevant and imperative. Only recently, we have 
learned anew that accuracy of perception and a sense of responsibility 
for one's actions — often born of dissolution and despair — are essential 
ingredients for the creation of a safer and better world. 

Works Cited 

Fleming, William. Arts and Ideas, ninth edition. Port Worth: Harcoun 
Brace, 1995. 

Hawthorne. Nathaniel. The French and Italian Notebooks. Ed. Thomas 
Woodson. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1980. 

. The Marble Faun. New York: New American Library, 1961. 

Lewis, R. W. B. The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in 
the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: U of C Press, 1955. 

Newman, Lea Bertani Vozar. "Hawthorne's Summer in Florence: Re- 
living a Honeymoon, the Dante Connection, and the Nascent 
Marble Faun." The Poetics of Place: Florence Imagined. Ed. Irene 
Marchegiani Jones and Thomas Haeussler. Florence, Italy: 
Olschki, 2001. 

Panofsky, Erwin. Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the 
Renaissance. New York: Oxford UP, 1939. 

Stebbins, Theodore E„ Jr. The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian 
Experience, 1 760-1914. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1992. 

50 The Mind's Eye 

John Fragassi, Untitled Drawings 

Charcoal on paper, 11" x 14" 

Charcoal on paper, 11" X 14" 

The Mind's Eye 51 

Two Poems 


The One Who's Writing This 

I don't know who's writing this, him or me. 

Jorge Luis Borges 

I know who you are, you're the one 

standing screaming at the window 

of this sentence, demanding to be let 

into this poem. You grab the pen, 

bend the inflection, wring the pitch 

of the pauses. Silence was captivity, abuse — 

now you won't be still. You spit out 

the alphabet like orders A B C J L E S U M, 

Grabbing the table, securing my papers, 

I try to distract you: Did I ask you to interfere? 

You hurl it back: Who asked you? 

You begin to chant, drowning out objects, 

designs, purposes. The black and white 

Door tiles look like gamblers' chits, 

then shatter into mosaics that spell out 

my first name and dissolve, as the curtains 

age in minutes, become threadbare, shred 

right off the rods. Keep it plain, let go, you 

shout, until I surrender everything, 

my dentist appointment, the calendar, electricity, 

until I'm forced onto the road where no one and 

nothing barkens to my deliberate identity. 

You've won. Here. This is yours. 

52 The Mind's Eye 

Anna M. Warrock 

A Brief History of Time 

You wonder what you will 
say and then the words 
come as water, flow 

over an object, 

shape a feeling, define, 

darken and cover over. 

You wonder, having spoken, if 
all the words voiced in the world 
fill your ears with the roaring 

you hear in your heartbeat, 
from birth a pulse 
seeking understanding. 

You have seen the earth 
suspended in a universe so large, 
light illuminates only the spheres, 

not the dark of space around them. 
You understand why the heart 
weakens like any muscle and dies. 

It is possible that all those 
radio antennae pointed outward 
to find some other language 

reach into a mirror 

and the static is our own words 

coming back to us. 

Round and blue, a planet 

hangs before your gaze, the earth 

gauzed in airwaves. 

You wonder 

what you wilJ say and then 
your cars begin to hear 

The Mind's Eye 53 

By Touch and Sight 


My wife's grandfather worked by touch and sighl, 
Knowing each kind of wood by hue and grain. 
He measured close so all would come out right. 

To mark each piece, each board's width and height, 
He used a lold-up, basswood rule, took pains 
To saw, join and sand by touch and sight. 

His tools survive: hand drills that curl and bite 
Into the wood — chisels, squares and planes 
That seem today to fit my hands just right. 

So do his gifts: tables, dressers, joints still tight, 

A pine doll cradle with a cherry stain, 

A great-granddaughter's now by touch and sight. 

Jn the Spanish-American War he missed the fight. 
Got dysentery and couldn't avenge the Maine. 
But things have a way of turning out ail right. 

We keep his lieutenant's sword, the blade still bright. 
But use the fold-up rule again and again, 
Reminding us to learn by touch and sight, 
Measuring close so all will come out right. 

54 The Mind's Eye 

There Is No Turning Back 


We beat with our mallets of time and hope 
Hard inside the iron-ribbed and rust-encrusted 
Flanks of this barnacled thing of a ship 
That fights its way inexorably. 
Eternally, across a depthless sea. 
Nor is there turning back, nor harbor. 
And the charts were charted before our time; 
And there has been no anchor since Eden. 

The Mind's Eye 55 

Book Review 

Art and War in Classical 
Greece and Rome 

Classical Art and the Cultures of Greece and Rome 

by John Onians 

Yale University Press, 1999 


versized, but nul as hefty and unwieldy as many coffee-table 

books, John Onians' Classical Art and the Cultures of Greece and 

Rome attempts, very successfully, an exceptionally complex 
task: that of situating the art and architecture of classical Greece and 
Rome within the context of their cultures. Onians, who teaches at the 
University of East Anglia's Department of World Art, received his train- 
ing at the Courtauld and Warburg institutes of art, His sociological/ 
psychological approach to art history owes much to the influence of 
Jacob Burckhardt, E. H, Gombrich and Michael Baxandall. Berkshire 
County readers may be interested to learn that John Onians was also 
a Visiting Fellow at the Clark Art Institute from 1 997 to 1 999. 

Written in limpid prose, blessedly devoid of theoretical jargon, 
Onians' approach is nonetheless brilliantly theoretical, original and 
speculative. Even when some of his speculations strain the bounds of 
credibility, he argues so persuasively, with such command over the 
broad picture as well as the minute details from a wide variety of cul- 
tural texts — history, philosophy, metaphysics — that it becomes a plea- 
sure to be persuaded even against one's reflexive skepticism. 

56 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

In the first section, Onians places classical Greek art and ar- 
chitecture within the context of war — a central preoccupation and 
occupation of the Greeks. Whether they were raiding neighboring 
states for natural resources, fending oil invading Persians or en- 
gaged in the long-drawn-out Peloponnesian Wars, preparation for 
war, the training of foot soldiers, or hopfites, was constant and un- 
relenting. According to Onians, the shoulder-to-shoulder rectangular 
fighting unit, the phalanx, was deeply informed by mathematics and, 
in turn, influenced the architecture of the Parthenon. The pervasive 
spirit of combat, or agon, translated itself into the intense competitive- 
ness that shaped every aspect of civic life: the production of art, arti- 
facts, architecture, athletics and, of course, the famous annual festival 
of Dionysus d uri tig which a daylong competition ended with the award- 
ing of prizes for the best playwrights. 

Unlike Babylonian creation myths, Greek stories ol the origins of 
the universe did not posit a creator; rather, the creation was likened to 
an artifact, a bringing together and reshaping of matter for utilitarian 
purposes. The large and respected artisan class — for example, the mak- 
ers of pots — strove to excel one another, nor in terms of originality but 
in terms of improving on one another's work, The aim was to imitate 
nature, an aim evident in the startlingly lifelike but idealized statues 
of male nudes that served as models for young men as they under- 
went rigorous training for war and athletics in the various gymnasia. 

From this broad sociological perspective, Onians moves to the 
specifics of geology, etymology and metaphor. The rugged Greek ter- 
rain was rich in marble waiting to be quarried and the Greeks thought 
of human bones as stonelike. Onians cites the myths of Deucalion and 
Pyrrha, who survived a devastating flood and were commanded to 
create a new race by throwing over their shoulders the "bones of their 
Mother," by which they meant the stones of Mother Earth: 

One of these stones was said to have turned into Hellen, 
father of Dorus, Xuthus, and Aeolus the founders of Greek 
tribes, Dorians, Ionian s and Aeolians making all Greeks its 
progeny. The most obvious starting point for this myth, as of 
others, is false etymology. The chance similarity between the 
Greek word laos, 'people', and laos, one of their words for 
'stone', led to an assimilation that is implicit in the Iliad (xxiv. 

The Mind's Eye 57 

Meera Tamayi 

611) and explicit in Pindar {Olympians, 9, 45 and 46). This 
correspondence between the words gave the myth its overt 
rationale, but its compelling authority derives from the domi- 
nant role of stone in the Greek experience. (1) 

It is this kind of fluid movement from the broadly speculative to the 
concrete specifics that makes the book a joy to read. 

In his section on Roman art, Onians argues against the traditional 
view that Roman art marks a decline from its origins in Greek art. He 
makes a strong case that the different roles played by art and education 
in Greek and Roman cultures account for the differences in their art. 
For the Greeks, art and education were "moulding machines" that pre- 
pared the young for military service. While Greeks relied on training the 
young, the Romans depended on punishing and disciplining adults. 
For the latter, art served an ornamental, decorative function, as an 
aid to mnemonics. Onians draws parallels between the rules for rheto- 
ric and art as a stimulus for memory and imagination, art as repre- 
sentation rather than image-making. Because the Romans thought 
of nature as something to be controlled rather than imitated, as the 
Greeks did, their art became an unfettered vehicle for imagination 
unrestrained by the bounds of nature. The Roman imperial elite went so 
far as to create artificial environments like Hadrian's villa atTivoli and the 
Baths at Caracalla, which further insulated them from nature. 

Constantine's conversion to Christianity and his relocation of the 
capital of Rome to the East brought about a radical change in the art of 
Rome. Christianity's emphasis on salvation and life after death con- 
stituted a fundamental shift in emphasis: "Driven by the fear of phi- 
losophy, luxury and idolatry, and the zeal for chastity, poverty and 
simplicity, the members of the new church happily destroyed a world 
that their ancestors had built with tools shaped originally in the Greek 
workshop" (200). However, with characteristic reasonableness, Onians 
gues on to modify his overstatement; he points out that the athletics, 
science, literature and art of the Greeks and the sensuality and delight 
in fiction of the Romans survived in a new form: "As cosmology de- 
clined, theology gained vitality. In the fieid of letters the love song was 
replaced by the hymn and the speech by the sermon. Secular painting 
and sculpture and the worship of images may have been subject to 
increasing criticism but all the visual arts received a new and even 
greater concentration in the church" (280). 

58 The Mind's Eye 

Meera Tamaya 

Though many of Onians' sentences abound in "must have," "may 
have" constructions, attesting to the speculative nature of his interpre- 
tations, the sweep of his intellectual reach and the mastery of detail in 
many disciplines make his speculations exhilarating. The beautiful black- 
and-white photographs precisely keyed to the text make his intricate 
arguments easy to follow. Classical Art and the Cultures of Greece and Rome 
is that rare thing — a book of serious, painstaking scholarship that also 
offers sustained reading pleasure. It is by no means a trivialization to 
say that I was as reluctant to put down Onians' art history as I arn to 
put down a good mystery novel. After all, good scholarship and good 
detective work have this in common: a passionate commitment to the 
pursuit of truth. 

The Mind's Eye 59 

Book Review 

Ideas and Politics 
Do Matter 

The Three Roosevelts by James MacGregor Burns 

and Susan Dunn 

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001 


ne cannot always tell a book by its cover. The jacket photo 

adorning James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn's The Three 

Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America does the 
historically impossible— offers a group photo of a mature Eleanor, 
Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt standing together with one of our 
nation's most photographed pets, the dog Fala. This magical compos- 
ite may stir a reader's imagination toward the promises of a faddish 
biographical expose of human frailty or a grandiose attempt to patch 
together broad expanses of United States history using personalities 
and a weak thematic adhesive. But given Bums's scholarly track record, 
we should know that this is a book about ideas and the art of leader- 
ship. As a longtime admirer of F.D.R. and documenter/promoter of 
transformational leadership. James MacGregor Burns has joined with 
Susan Dunn to produce a solid, basically chronological historical nar- 
rative of the politics and policies of the three Roosevelts. 

The authors portray these liberal icons as leaders who stretched 
themselves and their nation beyond the traditional restrictive bound- 

60 The Mind's Eye 

Robert Bence 

aries of both their social class and the long-cherished American prin- 
ciple of limited government. The book is a timely reminder that 
transformational leadership is quite a rare feat, both personally and 

While the United States constitutionally rejected the British con- 
cepts of monarchy and a "ruling aristocracy," it is ironic how often 
leaders related through blood and marriages have influenced different 
historical eras. Eleanor, Teddy's niece, would marry a distant cousin, 
Franklin. Transforming America to accept a larger role for Washing- 
ton would be a family affair. 

Theodore is clearly a groundbreaker, for his family, progressive poli- 
cies and the concept of an active president. As the most inteliectual of 
the three, he continually followed the logic of his beliefs about the 
need for federal government to ensure economic fairness and check 
the excesses of corporate power. He kept moving further to the left, 
beyond the mugwump reformer, occasionafly even outdistancing the 
Progressives. One often forgets the immense far-reaching scope of T.R.'s 
legacy — the antitrust suits, the extension of the Interstate Commerce 
Commission's jurisdiction and the expansion of the national park 
system. Both Roosevelt presidents confronted the major hurdle to West 
Wing-centered transformation, sharing political power with a legis- 
lature and the courts. Many of T.R.'s progressive measures were 
stymied by the constitutional role of a two-house Congress. Theodore 
liked power, for himself, the office of the presidency and the military 
muscle of his nation. But U.S. presidents have to confront not only 
systemic hurdles but personal ones as well. The first Roosevelt's am- 
bitious agenda was ultimately restricted by his tendency to thoroughly 
burn political bridges and reach further than practical politics in the 
early 20th century allowed. His overestimation of his strength and 
underestimation of the two-party system led to his abrupt dismissal 
from presidential politics after the 1912 election. 

The New Deal and wartime policy legacies of F.D.R. are more evi- 
dent, not only a result of four electoral victories in a Depression and 
wartime context, but also because of his well-honed ability to read the 
political landscape and effectively mobilize public opinion. While his 
campaign language was often as rhetorically sharp as his cousin's, he 
could work closely with political bosses and ultraconservative 
southern Democrats. T.R. excelled at public agitation and outrage; the 

The Mind s Eye 61 

Robert Bence 

freewheeling F.D.R. excelled at publicly and privately extending the 
borders of the institutional presidency. But the compromises required by 
the U.S. system of government and the broad-based two-party system 
inevitably produce some disappointing inactions, often making presidents 
appear unprincipled. For example, in spite of Efeanor's constant advo- 
cacy, her husband placed civil rights for American-Americans on the back 
burner, if not off the stove altogether, fearful of losing southern support 
for New Deal policies. There are limits to transformations. 

Eleanor Roosevelt matured politically at a much slower pace than 
her uncle and her husband, the men having the advantage of holding 
a variety of elective and appointive government offices. But her de- 
velopment is more impressive, because she was initially restricted not 
only by social class but also by low family expectations and limiting 
gender and spousal roles. She would have to obtain some social capi- 
tal through association with activist groups and politically motivated 
acquaintances. Once her social consciousness had been formed and 
allies had been secured, she was less shackled by political realism than 
her husband. More than her presidential relatives, she is presented by 
the authors as a person motivated by liberal idealism. While Lucy 
Mercer is mentioned rarely in this work, it appears that Franklin's 
marital infidelity may have strengthened Eleanor's independence and 
political autonomy. Bums and Dunn portray her as a tireless worker 
for social justice, both domestically and internationally, even when 
she does not get credit for her work in monumental tasks, especially 
leading United Nations delegates to produce the Declaration of Hu- 
man Rights. 

The authors counter some standard revisionist criticisms of the 
Roosevelts, especially the presidents — their preservation of the basic 
exploitive nature of capitalism and the inability to directly confront racial 
prejudice. However, this is not a defensive work but, rather, a celebration 
of three energetic, committed but ultimately human leaders who used 
power to transform the United States by transforming an extensive frame- 
work of ideals into policies that provided the model for modem Ameri- 
can liberalism and internationalism. There is nothing radically new or 
revealing in this well-told scholarly tale of using political tools to make 
ideas at least a partial reality. But it is well worth reading, if for no other 
reason than to remind us that elections matter, and that government, 
with effective leadership, can change the quality of our lives. 

62 The Mind's Eye 


Robert Bence has taught political science at Massachusetts College ol Lib- 
eral Arts since 1976. He has presented numerous papers, many of them on 
Canada and Canadian studies. In 1992, he was a visiting professor at Simon 
Fraser University in British Columbia. His book reviews have appeared in 
The Mind i Eye, The American Review of Canadian Studies, Africa Today and New 
Directions in Teaching. 

Vivian Dorsel is managing editor of The Berkshire Review and also facilitator 
of the Fiction Group of The Berkshire Writers Room. She recently coedited a 
volume on neurai-network models for the Advances in Psychology Series 
(Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam, The Netherlands). Besides The Berk- 
shire Review, her work has appeared in The Women's Times, The Artful Mind 
and Pif Magazine. One of her short stories has been nominated for a 2002 
Pushcart Prize. 

Thomas Weston Fels currently serves as curator of the new Elizabeth de C. 
Wilson Museum at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester, Ver- 
mont. As a curator and writer, he specializes in photography and American 
culture. He is the author of numerous catalogs and articles: O Say Can You 
See: American Photographs, 1839-1939 and Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of Cali- 
fornia Photography. 1849-1950. He has written regularly for the Print Collectors' 
Newsletter and On Paper magazine. His new book on collecting photography, 
Sotheby's Guide to Photographs, is soon to be scheduled for publication. 

John Fragassi is a graduate of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, where 
he majored in business administration. His Untitled charcoal drawings were 
completed in Assistant Professor Greg Scheckler's Advanced Studio class dur- 
ing the fall of 2000. 

John P, Frazee is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Massachusetts Col- 
lege of Liberal Arts, He is a scholar of English, which he studied during his 
master's and doctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley. He has 
published a number of articles on Victorian and 20th-century authors. 

Tony Gengarelly teaches art history and museum studies at Massachusetts 
College of Liberal Arts. He has authored several articles and books, including 
the 1989 catalog The Prendergasts and the Arts and Crafts Movement and the 

The Mind's Eye 

1996 monograph Distinguished Dissenters and Opposition to the 1919-1920 Red 
Scare. His essay on Frederick Strothmann's poster Beat Back the Hun with Lib- 
erty Bonds appears in American Dreams: American Art to 1950 in the Williams 
College Museum of Art (Hudson Hills, 2001 ). He has also contributed an entry, 
"Poster Art," to TheGuideto United States Popular Culture (Popular Press. 2001). 

Jack Handler is a "recovering lawyer" who writes essays and poetry. He is 
a member of the National Writers Union and serves on the board of directors 
of the Berkshire Writers Room. 

Ben Jacques writes poetry and creative nonfiction, as well as journalistic 
articles, for numerous publications, including Americas, Flyfishing, Country 
Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, Kansas Quarterly. The Mind's Eye and The 
Berkshire Eagle. Since 1990, Professor Jacques has taught in the English and 
Communications Department at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 

Timothy Jay, a professor of psychology, has been a member of the MCLA 
faculty since 1 976. He has worked as a professional musician and as a stained- 
glass craftsman throughout Ohio and New England. He spends most of his 
professional hours exploring Americans' use of and comprehension of taboo 
words. He is the author of several books, including The Instructional Comput- 
ing Manual, Psychology and Computer Assisted Instruction, Cursing in America, What 
to Do When Your Students Talk Dirty, What to Do When Your Kids Talk Dirty, Why 
We Curse and The Psychology of Language. He is currently writing a popular 
version of his work on taboo words. 

Meera Tamaya is a professor of English at Massachusetts College of Liberal 
Arts, where she teaches courses on Shakespeare and other distinguished 
writers. She is the author of the book Colonial Detection: H.R.F. Keating, as well 
as articles on John Sherwood, Ka/uo, Margaret Atwood, Barbara 
Pym and Shakespeare. Her most recent book is An Interpretation of Hamlet 
Based on Recent Developments in Cognitive Studies. 

Anna M. Warrock has received literary fellowships from the Somerville 
Arts Council and other awards, including the Robert Penn Warren Award 
from the Cumberland Poetry Review. Her work has been published in the Harvard 
Review, Madison Review, Phoebe, Wild Earth and elsewhere; performed by Row 
Twelve, a contemporary chamber music ensemble; and permanently installed 
in the Davis Square, Somcrvifle, subway station of Boston's MBTA. 

64 The Mind's Eye 

Mind's Eye 

Writer's Guidelines 

While emphasizing articles of scholarly merit. The Mind's Eye focuses on a general 
communication of ideas of interest to a liberal arts college. We welcome expository 
essays as well as fiction. We publish twice a year. The deadline for the Fall issue is 
July 15. Deadline for the Spring issue is January 15. 

Submissions should adhere to these guidelines: 

it Submit unpublished manuscripts both on paper and on disk, using either PC or 
MAC platform word-processing programs. Manuscripts should be typed doubie 
spaced. Your name, address, phone number and e-mail address, if available, should 
be listed on the cover sheet; your name should appear at the top of each page. 

2. We will consider simultaneous submissions under the provision that the author 
notify us of this and contact us immediately if the material is accepted elsewhere. 

3. If you wish your manuscript and disk returned, please enclose a return self- 
addressed envelope. If it is to be mailed off campus, attach sufficient postage. 
While we make every attempt to safeguard your manuscript and disk, we cannot be 
held responsible for their loss. 

4. Use MLA or APA style, with in-text references, as appropriate to the content and 
disciplinary approach of your article (see MLA or APA stylebooks for guidelines). 

5. While we will consider articles of unspecified length, preference is given to 
articles of under 20 pages. 

6. We reserve the right to edit for clarity and accuracy. 

7. We will consider one-color artwork (e.g., photographs, line drawings, woodcuts). 

8. Payment will be made in contributor's copies, 

Submit your manuscript to: 

The Mind's Eye 
Tony Gengarelly, Managing Editor 
Campus Box 9132 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
375 Church Street 
North Adams, MA 01247 
For queries: